84K, the perspective from someone who tried and failed

For those who don’t wish to sift through a long, bloviating post, the TLDR version is that I got through 9 of the 10 courses but had to stop short to get home in time to go to work. I just didn’t give myself the time I needed.

Thanks Adam for organizing this and thank you Pete for all the helpful insight and suggestions.

I first learned about the challenge around the first week of November after having stumbled across Pete Kresock’s blog about his experience doing it. I had just completed the CanLake50 Oct 9th and was looking for the next challenge as I always like to make sure there is something on the calendar to work towards. This one was intriguing since it took the “aid station” dynamic and turned it on its head. Now you have a fixed amount of time to get the miles in, but your “aid station” time doesn’t count against your “on the course” time. I liked the open format in that you can choose the day, start time, order, etc. and practically all other aspects of the event, so long as you did it within 24 hours and kept track of the routes properly. I knew after Twisted Branch in August that it took me almost 4 weeks to really feel like there were no longer any lingering fatigue issues, so I tentatively planned on tackling this challenge sometime within the first two weeks of November. After that, the snow starts falling and all bets are off. I wanted to be flexible and target a span of good weather days, so I settled on a “wait and see” approach as the time drew near to see what the weather might be like. I had hoped to run most of the courses at least once prior to tackling the 100k just to make sure navigation (both on and between courses) would not be much of a factor on event day, but unfortunately only ended up getting in Forest Frolic, South Hill Rec, and Danby. The last week of October was indeed showing some favorable weather forecasts for the first two weeks of November, so I started planning on tackling this on Saturday the 6th to have that buffer of Sunday to ease the time constraint. During that week though, the weather appeared to be getting better as the week progressed, with the following Tuesday-Thursday timeframe promising excellent conditions. So, I instead opted to join the High Noon team up at FLCC on Sunday and push the 100k out to Wednesday or Thursday and take a day off from work. That day ultimately ended up being Thursday.

I got home late from work Wednesday evening and still needed to get all of my stuff in order. I filled up the hydropack with water so that was ready to go. Filled a giant paper bag full of dried foods, fruits, protein bars, and a jar of peanut butter. One thing I was very concerned about was phone and headlamp power as both of these were mission critical. I had a duffle bag full of changes of shorts, socks, shirts, jackets, etc. I have one pair of trail shoes and three pairs of running shoes. One set of trail poles, something that I had never actually used before. I had everything laid out on the counter for my breakfast and coffee so that when I got up all I had to do was eat and get out. Unfortunately, this burned up more time than I anticipated and I didn’t even get into bed until almost 9pm. I wanted to be on the road by 2am at the latest to get a good head start on the trails that were conducive to easy night navigation. I am generally someone that can fall asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow, but whether it be anxiety or something else, I found it impossible to fall asleep. I just kept thinking about the day ahead and whether I had thought of everything. Then I just kept stressing out about not getting enough sleep that just created a feedback loop of anxiety that made it so that I couldn’t fall asleep. By about midnight I was just about resigned to pulling the plug on it. I chose to wait until I was able to fall asleep, see how I felt when I woke up, and then just take it from there. I must have finally kicked off about 1am and woke up around 3:45. Doing the math, I was at best getting started in Ithaca around 5:30am for my first trail. Definitely not the way I had planned it. Against good judgement, I decided to forge ahead and was in the car and on the road about 4:15am. All previous plans went out the window and the only thing I could think of was to head directly to Black Diamond and get my feet on the ground as quick as possible. For what little sleep I had, I did not feel too bad.

Black Diamond: This was the closest trail to drive to from home and definitely an obvious choice for night running being flat and straight. It was also one of the majority of trails I still had not been on yet. It was quite chilly and I wasn’t sure exactly what to wear, but I opted to keep my long running pants on, a fleece over top of a synthetic T, and a pair of thin gloves. For hydration I wore a “Flipbelt” with a single water bottle around my waist. I ended up never using it. I first clocked in at 5:30am. It was pitch black the entire way up and I had little idea what my surroundings really looked like as I ran. It is a bit spooky to see the glare of the peering eyes of deer staring at me from within the trees as the head lamp hit them. At the turn it seemed as though a light switch was turned on immediately as I was able to turn off the head lamp for the trip down. It was nice on the return to actually get to see scenery of what just a short time ago was completely black. As is typical with the start of a long day like this, it was a struggle to rein in the desire to push the pace and keep things slow to conserve for later in the day. All in all I was feeling good after the first run and no noticeable fatigue or glitches to speak of.

Waterfront: I was really a bit nervous about parking and when certain trails were and were not supposedly open. I again had not seen this trail before so I wanted the benefit of doing it while it was light out and officially open. I decided to keep the gloves and long pants on as it was still quite brisk. I brought the printout of the directions with me and was actually refencing it in mid run. I was originally worried that I might have to get my feet wet here due to flooding but it appears all the water had receded from the previous weeks. I kept trucking along looking for the “blue pillars” when I finally got to a point where it was clear that I had definitely gone too far and had missed something. I turned around and on the return is finally occurred to me that it was blue “piers” and not “pillars”. I got some bonus mileage in for not being a careful reader. The trip back was quick and uneventful and 13+ miles in now I still wasn’t feeling much in the way of fatigue. Drank some water, snacked on a few things, and then headed off to the next trail.

CBG: This one I was excited about because I was anticipating a beautiful and pristine parklike atmosphere. I wasn’t disappointed. The drive there alone was quite beautiful. By now it was becoming obvious that the warm sunny day that had been predicted was not coming to pass. The clouds were thick and not letting the sun through and the temps were not rising like I expected. I remained in my long pants (in fact I kept them on the entire day) but this time decided to ditch the gloves. The parking area is beyond the where the scan in on the sign is located, so by the time I had made it back to where I was parked, I had already decided to put the gloves back on. I did the major trail clockwise, the little loop counter clockwise, and the outer of the two paths on the eastern portion. There was a PortaPotty stationed conveniently on the connection of the small loop, so I took advantage of that as well. I got around at a nice comfortable pace and was back at the car in what seemed like no time at all. I definitely want to come back and do this one again when everything is full of leaves and in bloom. I was still feeling quite good at this time with only some minor knee ache to note. I reminded myself that I needed to take an Ibuprofen at the car to help ease the pain.

East Rec: This one was so close that there was not point in skipping it. I did have to steer around an escaped Pheasant as I was nearing the trail head. It was quite busy and as the log would show it ended up with a lot of challenge activity that day. I jogged out and back in both miles at about the same pace. I finally ditched the gloves on this one. For whatever reason I could finally start feeling the accumulation of miles on this one, with the realization that things had only begun. I reminded myself again while I was running that I needed to take an Ibuprofen for the pain, as I forgot to do it after CBG. I had some tough decisions to make on the path forward and that decision heavily shaped how the rest of the day went.

South Hill Rec: I decided to finish off the city courses, and the last of the groomed courses (save Pseudo Skunk) and just get it behind me so that I could change shoes once and just focus on the four trail runs. One of the neat aspects of the drive there were all the FLRC challenge signs I encountered along the way. This was the first of the trails that day I had already run previously, so I knew what to expect. I originally planned to do this one as an early dark time run, but my late start blew that idea up. I had once again forgotten to take the Ibuprofen and this time I was regretting it. I decided to run it in order of long, medium, short. For whatever reason, this was the trail that got to me. I felt tired, achy, and the trail seemed as though it was closer to 14 miles instead of 7. My heart rate went up and I could not get it to go back down regardless of my pace. The cruelest part about this trail is that you get to pass your car twice during the run. I thought about stopping quick and just getting the Ibuprofen, but decided to just keeping trudging away. For the first time that day, I decided to walk a small stretch back up the hill on the second leg. I was glad when this one was finally over and pleased with where I was at time wise with half of the courses complete.

Wegmans: I needed some electrolytes and was craving a warm meal, so headed over to Wegmans to regroup. I was well ahead of my original time budget so it seemed like a good way to reassess, and it was practically just up the road from Buttermilk. I stopped at the food court and got two giant slices of pizza which really raised my spirits. I then grabbed a container of potato salad, some electrolyte drinks, and a bunch of bananas, and headed back out. I was at the store a little longer than I would have liked but I think the time off my feet definitely gave my body the time it needed to get back in swing.

Tortoise & Hare: I arrived here in great spirits and with a full stomach. I had never been here before and was pleasantly surprised by the huge waterfall that greets you at the entrance. It was time to switch shoes and socks, learn how to use my trail poles, and start chipping away at the four trail courses. It took me a bit to find the sign to scan in and I almost made a big mistake and started running down the wrong way on the west side, but fortunately I stopped myself before getting too far. I went up the initial steep climb at a nice leisurely pace, careful not to upset my full stomach. Once I got past the steep part, I picked up the pace and starting pushing hard the rest of the way. It was about then that I realized that I still after all this time had not taken an Ibuprofen and now I was really paying for it. That said, I really enjoyed this run and it was easy to ignore the pain with all the new stuff to see. When I got to the spot where the last little loop begins, they had a barrier across the left fork stating the path was closed. I forged ahead regardless and got to see with my own eyes what everyone else has been describing about the bridge being washed out and some of the rock path destroyed. Luckily, there are a couple of perfectly placed downed trees near the bridge that can get you across the water without going in. My poles came in handy for keeping my balance and I was across to the east side with little or no problems. The rest of the trail back went by so fast it hardly felt like any time had passed. Before I knew it, I was in the car heading for Danby and still feeling pretty good about my progress. Finally, on the drive there, I remembered to take the Ibuprofen. It was quite amazing the difference it made.

Danby: This and Forest Frolic are definitely where you are going to get hurt. I was hoping to blitz through here quickly and get to ThomB soon enough that I would be able to do that one in mostly daylight. I stuffed myself on the potato salad in the car before heading out. I ran it clockwise this time, as opposed to how I had done it the previous time. It was certainly easier to navigate that way and the first 1.5 miles or so are on the road so they go quick. The tough part about Danby is I hate running in wet feet. I had deliberately planned things such that I could keep my feet as dry as possible for as long as possible. There is a long stretch of trail that basically takes you up a river bed that makes this very difficult. I had applied some salve to my toes to prevent blistering, and up until then my feet were in great shape. Once you step in a puddle, that salve washes right off and wet feet blister so easily. I was doing a pretty good job of keeping my feet dry up until about 3 miles in, and then I took a step on what I thought was dry ground but was basically a mud puddle disguised in leaves. From that point on my foot was drenched, and soon after the other one was drenched as well. Then I could feel that all too familiar pinch in my toes where my trail feet would finally begin. My course time in Danby wasn’t far off from what I had planned (only about 10 min longer) but it was becoming obvious once I got back that the daylight was burning out quick. I immediately got in the car and punched ahead to ThomB.

Clothing: One thing I seriously struggled with all day was clothing. It was very difficult to layer. The start of each run was always too cold, and I always got too hot too quick. I sweat out more than the average person, so I was constantly drenched in my own sweat. I put on a fresh shirt for practically every run and tried to use my defroster in between drives to dry out my fleece. I was never really able to get it right, and the conditions outside changed so quickly that it was futile to try.

ThomB: I was really nervous about ThomB from the start. For one, I had never been there before so had no idea what to expect. I knew by the maps that there are a ton of extra trails throughout and myriad ways to go off on the wrong path. When I got there, it was clear I was going to do almost all of it in the dark. There were a ton of cars in the parking lot and a group of four mountain bikers that just got out of the woods when I go out of my car. They asked me to take a group photo for them. I am sure they thought it strange when they saw me putting the head torch on, strapping on my hydropack, and heading straight for the woods just as the sun was ducking below the horizon. The weather was really starting to turn now. The temps dropped quick, but more so the wind picked up tremendously. I spent the first few minutes trucking down the road looking for the trail entrance shivering. I had a real hard time finding the trail entrance in the dark, and it if wasn’t for the footpath ap, I probably would not have found my way through this. Once inside though, things were somewhat calm. I was definitely pleased to see that although this was a large labyrinth of trails, it was by no means a “technical” trail by most standards. I felt like I was able to run the bulk of it without fear of tripping. Considering I did this one entirely in the dark without ever having been there before, after already having done a decent amount of mileage, I felt this one went way better than I expected. I was only in there about 20min longer than I had originally budgeted for time and was still feeling pretty good by the time I broke back out of the woods. I just wish I could tell you what it looked like because I could not see a darn thing for the whole 8+ miles. I look forward to doing this one again sometime to actually know what it looks like.

Forest Frolic: I arrived here at around 7:30pm and my wife and kids called me to say goodnight and make sure I was still alive. My Garmin is setup to give her a live track of my location, which was pretty much the only safety I had. By now the wind was awful, it was cold, I had nothing dry to wear, it was pitch black, and there was no sign of life anywhere. I felt like a tiny rock floating alone in space. As with the other two trails that I was previously familiar with, I did this one in the reverse order that I had before, electing to run up the road instead of diving directly into the trail. The sounds of the forest were earie. The trees were creaking heavily under the force of the wind. Every now and then I would get the glint of some eyes from my headlamp and could only wonder what kind of body belonged to the eyes. Raccoon, deer, bigfoot, chupacabra?? The hike up Virgil was arduous and seemed to take forever. I eventually reached a spot where there were some little white signs on the ground right in the middle of the trail. “Beware the ground bees”. I chuckled to myself that this would be a fitting way to meet my demise. Attacked by ground bees in the middle of a forest, in the middle of the night, in the cold, and with nobody within a loud scream to hear. I managed to step in quite a few puddles to enhance my foot misery and my feet were getting cold. Had I carried a spare set of socks, I would have changed them. By the time I made it to the top of Virgil where the power lines are cut from the trees the wind was raging, cutting through my fleece, and freezing the sweat in the layers beneath. I hobbled down the hill trying to get back into the trees as quick as I could. It was a relief to be back out of the wind. I plugged away biding my time to where the two loops would again intersect. This seemed as though it took forever. In fact, it did take forever. One thing that increased the difficulty was the orange marks on the trees were not reflective and much more difficult to pick out at night. My neck was constantly bobbing up and down between the trees and the ground. When I was looking for markers I would trip, when I looked down for roots and rocks, I would miss markers. When I finally got to the intersection, I was a bit shocked by how bad my time was. The straight path forward was only a mile back to the car, the second loop was nearly three. It was a tough left turn to take. The second loop felt like it took even longer than the mountain loop. I felt like I was keeping a solid steady pace, but my Garmin begged to differ. I eventually got to a point where the footpath trail didn’t overlap with an actual trail and I was for some time in between trails through the brush and briers trying to figure out where the actual path was. I eventually found it, but funny enough, it was only about 20 feet from the exit when I did. It was then that I realized that this side of the path actually exited right where the scan in sign was. When I ran the trail a couple weeks ago, I had gone down the road about 50ft and started out on a snowmobile path. I hadn’t even realized this was the actual beginning of the trail. End result, I was inside Forest Frolic for almost 3.5 hours and somehow managed to add nearly an extra mile to the course! That’s approaching my marathon time. It was close to 11:30pm now and this really blew up my schedule. The figure-eight shape of the course I now understand to be an infinity sign.

Pseudo Skunk: I only had one leg left on the docket and that was the half-marathon. After getting back in the car after Forest Frolic, I went to punch in the directions to Pseudo Skunk on the navigation and get going. I could not get a signal and my ap would just time out. I took off my shirt, shoes, socks, cranked up the heat, and started driving generally north and west trying to get a signal. The lack of sleep from the night before was really starting to weigh on me during the drive and I really had no idea where I was. After driving for about 10 minutes I was finally able to get a signal and the GPS started routing me towards Pseudo Skunk, over 20 minutes away. I struggled on the drive and shortly after the GPS kicked in the sky opened up and it started raining. I arrived at Pseudo Skunk about 30 minutes past midnight. The good news was that I had nearly 5 hours left to get it done and physically I was feeling fine. Slow jogging it in 3 hours was well with reason. The bad news was that I needed to be at work by 8am, I still had an hour and 20 minute drive back home, 30 minute drive to work, at best 2.5 to 3.0 hours’ worth of running to do. That leaves about 2.5 hours to take a shower, sleep, get dressed, etc, already on very little sleep from the previous night. On top of that, it was raining, all of my clothes were already wet, the wind was nasty, and I was barely able to stay awake for the drive to Pseudo Skunk much less the full drive home and to work. Something had to give. So, I made the painful, but not necessarily difficult decision to pull the plug on it and make my way home. I napped for about 10 minutes at Pseudo Skunk before heading out on the drive home. I ended up having to pull over and nap again three more times before making it home.

Things learned:
This was the first time I had used anti-chaffing salve. I only used it on my toes as I don’t have issues anywhere else and it worked really well as long as you could keep your feet dry.
I almost lost my toenails between Twisted Branch and Can Lake these past few months. I took great care to trim them down as far as possible and file them flat this time and that seems to have made a huge difference.
Using the poles is not as straightforward. They are annoying to hold if when you don’t need them, but it is nice to take some of the pressure off your legs when you are going up a steep climb or slippery surface.
I need to do more strength exercises. In the later stages, the hamstrings, glutes, and calves seem to be what holds me back.

One interesting aspect of this format is you are really at your own mercy. There is nobody else pushing you (unless you bring someone along). If you fall and get knocked unconscious in the middle of the night, you are probably not going to be found until the next day. If you are aggressive on the technical trails and get hurt, there’s no guarantee of anyone around to help. I ran more conservatively in the night trails as a consequence. The other thing is there really isn’t anything stopping someone from trying again if they come up short for some reason. Usually if something bad happens on game day, you’re done. For this one, you’re only done when you give up.

I hated pulling the plug, but I am at peace with the decision. Risking causing an accident just wouldn’t be responsible. It was a positive experience that I learned a great deal from. The day of and after I was fairly resolved that it is unlikely I will attempt this again before the end of the year. Since, my legs and feet have recovered quickly. I have already been running through my mind how one would approach this in the snow and below freezing temps. We’ll see!

9 courses
Almost exactly 13hours on course.
Time spent from start of first to end of ninth was 18hours.
52.2 course miles (84k)
55.70 actual miles


Wow. Just wow. I’m in awe at your perseverance, particularly in the face of plans falling apart and the weather disintegrating on you.

Thank you so much for sharing all these details. I can’t imagine ever behind capable of running this much at once, but as with @aaronking32’s recap, I find the mindset and obstacles fascinating, and anyone who does want attempt such a feat could learn a great deal.

It’s been great meeting you at the PGXC races, and I hope you’ll come down to Ithaca for more running in the future!

What a great summary of your adventure - thank you for sharing! I wish somebody had told you about the RunGo navigation app (doesn’t sound like you used it?). It really helps you stay on course - especially out on the trails.

This was my favorite part of your post. So relatable!

Appreciate the detailed playback @DamianClemons. Much respect. It is certainly a different beast doing it solo, and especially having many of the trails on the backend. And sounds like a wise decision in the end. Had I had major miles left after BDT and hadn’t snapped out of the fog, I might’ve done the same. Glad the recovery was quick. If you plan on another go — happy to meet and keep company for a longer course or two, particularly if the weather starts turning.

Absolutely incredible! Thanks for the nitty gritty, it’s an excellent read. That you live an hour and half away from Ithaca and had never even run some of the trails, or even Waterfront, is extraordinary. Can’t imagine how you’re work day went afterward! Congrats. I urge our RD to consider some kind of outstanding effort award. That you (wisely) pulled the plug at the end is nothing compared to what you accomplished.

I enjoyed reading your thorough recap and I’m sorry it didn’t work out as you’d hoped. Ultras have a big learning curve for sure. After this experience, I think you’ll have an easier time running a 50-mile or 100k race where the course is well marked and staffed with volunteers and you have other people to run with. As I told Aaron, having to watch for turns, drive between courses, and manage all your own calories and gear while recording your own course times can take a large mental toll, making this challenge quite difficult even though a lot of the running is on easy terrain.

As for the wet feet, sometimes you just have to accept that they’ll be chronically wet and plan accordingly (like at Twsited Branch!) Find trail shoes that are comfortable and also drain water quickly, and combine those with socks that won’t give you blisters. (I’ve had good luck with Farm to Feet, Zensah, and Darn Tough brand socks.) Changing socks is a huge waste of time if they’re gonna get wet again in 5 minutes.

Had I known at least a day in advance that you were attempting this, I would’ve been happy to come out at night to pace you through Forest Frolic and Pseudo Skunk if you wanted the company. Let me know if you’ll be down our way again and want to run some trails in the daylight and maybe we could meet up. All the trail courses are also in-person races in the summer and fall, so check those out next year if you want to run the courses as sub-ultra races.

And I’ll just note, @DamianClemons, that Pseudo Skunk Cabbage is all you need now to finish all ten courses of the Challenge in general, so if you can come down to Ithaca again before the end of the year, it will be easy to knock that one off. @Petorius and others would probably be happy to run with you, and I need it for my tenth course as well, but I may be running pretty late in the year, depending on how long it takes my calf to heal.

That elusive ibuprofen lol! And I love how Wegmans became one of the official stops. Love Wegmans! I sweat out quite a bit too (TMI) and this time of year would probably have had to change clothes between every run to avoid being soaked in cold conditions.

I am sure they thought it strange when they saw me putting the head torch on, strapping on my hydropack, and heading straight for the woods just as the sun was ducking below the horizon.

It’s all good…that’s how we roll around here. :wink:

And I remember passing that sign about the ground bees with @melissawallace. I thought how nice of folks to post a warning sign…then held my breath for a few seconds! This time of year though (and at night when you went) they are much less active. I think?

Sounds like an epic day with tons of learning, even without the last course. I really enjoyed reading your recap and you were wise to stay safe. Just one course left and it’s an easy and enjoyable one for tired legs!

I also appreciated the reference to the ground bees sign! That was a memorable moment.

@DamianClemons thanks for the recap, what an impressive and inspiring effort!