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Saturday, November 10, 2018

2018 Mines of Spain 100 Mile Footrace

Ser·en·dip·i·ty
     noun: serendipity; plural noun: serendipities
     1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way


A view from above the old quarry, hard to believe it's in IA.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
Serendipity. That was the word that repeated through my mind as I slogged through nearly waist deep, chilly water with only my headlamp to light the way. All the while telling myself excitedly and with some degree of disbelief “this is what I do for fun!” Did I actually mean it or was I trying to convince myself that this was still fun? Regardless, that is where I found myself and I intended to make the best of it. The path that led to me running the inaugural Mines of Spain 100 mile foot race in Dubuque, Iowa was strewn with many chance occurrences. Although these events all ultimately played a role in leading me to a very positive outcome of having a great time running a really cool race, several (one in particular) of those chance occurrences felt like huge negatives in the moment that I experienced them. That one in particular that I had trouble finding any positive about was the cancellation of the 2018 Eastern States 100. At the time the news broke and for weeks after I was pretty bummed about it. However, without that event being cancelled I would not have been on the search for another 100 mile race to squeeze in before the end of 2018. If Eastern States 100 hadn’t been cancelled, I highly doubt I would have made the trip from NJ to IA to run a 100 mile race. So in that regard, a positive was revealed due to the cancellation of the 2018 Eastern States 100. This was just one event of a much larger series of events that fell into the right set of circumstances and timing that ultimately led to me taking a road trip back home to IA to run a 100 mile race.

The start of the 100k and 100 mile race.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
I could dive deep with this race report and tell you all about my roots and childhood in Iowa, but I’ll save that story for another time. I do have to cover a few details from that era as they are necessary to explain why someone just up and decides to drive halfway across the country to run a 100 mile race. Well, it’s not “THE” starting point, but it’s “A” starting point: I received a wedding invitation from a childhood friend that I met in kindergarten and have stayed in touch with to some degree ever since. My initial reaction was that I would likely not be able to make it. Between work and family life, I just didn’t see a long weekend trip happening in mid October. However, pieces started falling into place without me even realizing. Eastern States was cancelled and I was browsing Ultrasignup regularly to find a replacement 100 miler close to home. Thankfully, my wife was searching on my behalf and was not limiting her search to the Mid-Atlantic region. In fact, she found a 100 mile race that was only about a one hour drive from Davenport, IA (where I grew up and where my parents still live) which is only about a 20 minute drive from where my friend’s wedding was scheduled to take place. That race was the inaugural edition of the Mines of Spain. Even more amazingly, the race was scheduled to start on Friday (October 19th) at 8 AM giving me plenty of time to run a 100 miler and then make it to my friend’s wedding at 3:30 PM on Saturday (October 20th). When I considered the odds of the timing and location of all of these events falling into place so perfectly, I couldn’t resist and pulled the trigger on the Ultrasignup registration page.

One of the small creek crossings.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
The first challenge of this ultramarathon was just getting to the area. When is the last time you made a 15 hour drive with your four and six year old kids? Well, that’s what my wife and I did just couple days before the start of the race. That long in the car is challenging no matter what and it’s even more challenging with kids in tow so we decided to make the drive overnight. We piled in the car Tuesday evening and drove straight through stopping only for gas and bathroom breaks. The kids fell asleep in NJ and woke up in IL to finish the drive into IA. It was tough, but in many ways it was better than breaking up the drive into a two day trip with the kids awake for the majority of it. My main concern was that I would be a bit sleep deprived to start when going into the early morning hours of the race making them a bit harder to deal with.

On the Horseshoe Bluff Trail running through the bottom of the old quarry.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
The Mines of Spain course isn’t strictly a loop or out and back course. I would call it a hybrid of sorts with a stronger emphasis on the out and back sections. It is a 20 mile route with a few smaller loops mixed into out and back sections with three aid stations in addition to the start/finish area aid station. The way the course is set up allows you to stop at aid station 1 on two occasions: as the first aid station (kinda obvious) and again between AS 2 and AS 3. The stretch between AS 2 and getting back to AS1 is less than two miles, so it’s probably not really necessary to stop again, but it was nice to know there are plenty of opportunities for aid stops on the course. The course starts at Louis Murphy Park and follows a paved path down hill along a power line cut to Julien Dubuque Dr. where you run by the City of Dubuque Water & Resource Recovery Center (there’s a bit of a smell in the air around this area). This makes up about a 1.5 mile stretch after which there is one more short stretch of road running then the rest of the course is on trail. For the initial loop the RD added a very short out and back to run around the Julien Dubuque Monument overlooking the Mississippi. It was less than a quarter mile of extra distance and gave the photographers there a great opportunity to get a very picturesque photo of all the runners. After this there was about a quarter mile of trail with a lot of stairs, some metal, that I made a mental note of how treacherous they would be in the dark. After this a quick road crossing over a bridge before a half mile of trail, a half mile of road, and then a hard left and you’re on the Horseshoe Bluff Trail which in my opinion was one of the most scenic spots on the course and very unique for Iowa.

Photo from my first lap after circling the Julien Dubuque Monument.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
The Horseshoe Bluff Trail starts with a climb then takes you through the old quarry where lead was mined in the late 1700’s when the land was owned by Spain, hence the name of the recreation area and the race. The trail sits at the bottom of jagged rock walls on either side. The rocky outcroppings are tall, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were over 100 feet high in some instances, making you feel pretty miniscule as you follow the relatively narrow path between them. Then you come to a fork in the trail and cross a short (and slick when wet) bridge to begin the lengthiest out and back section of the course. Over the course of this out and back you’ll pass through AS 1, make several small creek crossings (if you’re careful you should be able to keep your feet dry), and pass through forests and prairie grasslands dominated by big bluestem and Indiangrass. At the turnaround there was hole puncher hanging from a tree to mark your bib each time you passed. On the way back you’ll make an additional short out and back to AS 2 before returning back across the bridge and onto some new trail. From there it’s a lollipop section of the course with lots of stairs leading up to AS 3 and lots of stairs coming back down. A short out and back part of this lollipop section happened to be a bit flooded a little above ankle deep during the race for what I estimated to be a stretch of about 200 feet (I counted about 70 paces). There was no chance of keeping your feet dry here. And shortly after your return pass through this wet section you were treated to the most flooded section of the course. This section of the trail runs along Catfish Creek, a tributary which feeds into the Mississippi and is affected by water depths of the mighty Mississippi. By chance, water levels of the Mississippi were near record levels leading up to the race and serious flooding had occurred in many towns along the river. The result in regard to the race was a 300 foot or so section of trail with about three foot deep (depending on if you found a hole or not) water to wade through. Survive this and then it’s just a quick hop on the road to cross the flooded creek you just waded through, a little loop with a bit of a climb and a descent, and then you’re on your way back up the metal stairs and on the road past the water treatment facility to return to the start/finish area.

The short, slick bridge mentioned above.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
And that’s the Cliff’s Notes version of the course overview. If it sounds a bit confusing with all the out and backs, forks, and a lollipop that’s because it is. The area is made up of a lot of interconnected trails, many of which are relatively short when a 100 mile run is the goal. Without being familiar with the trail network, I thought the race did a great job of using the trails available to create a fun and more challenging than expected 20 mile course. Course marking was good, but even so I found myself questioning if I had taken the right turn several times during my first lap. This usually was shortly after one of the trail junctions and usually due to my uncertainty of having chosen the right turn, not due to me not seeing any flagging. For that reason, I would highly recommend anyone planning on running this race to study the course map leading up to the race. I know I regretted having not studied it and wished I had made myself more familiar with it ahead of time.

 Left: A small portion of the stairs leading to AS 3. Right: The least helpful volunteer at the race.
(yes, it's a Tonya Harding cardboard stand up)
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography

My primary goal for this race was a time goal. It’s hard to set a goal for a race that is on unfamiliar terrain, so I tend to error on the side of overreaching. This course had an elevation gain of 14,000 feet, so not flat and fast and especially not so by Midwest standards. I decided to shoot for a 20 hour finish, partly because the math would be easy to do during the race: 5 laps X 4 hours/lap = 20 hours. The math was easy, as it would turn out the running would be much harder. For the most part, the course is completely runnable. At least that’s what I thought for the first lap which went really well. Other than the aid station stops I think I ran the entirety of the first lap. I spent the first half of it running and chatting with another guy then he fell back a little after AS 2. This left me alone in front running in first place, an abnormal experience for me. I questioned what the hell I was doing running out front ahead of my target pace, but the course just felt runnable. I even ran the entire paved climb up the powerline cut, one of the most notable elevation gains on the course. Making it back to the start/finish AS was exciting as I arrived in under 3.5 hours, way ahead of my target pace. Even more exciting was that my parents made it there in time to cheer me on and get their first taste of what ultrarunning is. And more exciting on top of that was the fact that the second place runner came into the AS within a minute or two of me and was back out on the course very quickly. I rushed a bit and was back out on lap two hoping that I had a shot of keeping up with him.

It's all smiles for the first 20 easy miles, see completely runnable.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
I passed him on the paved downhill after leaving the aid station and didn’t see him again until AS 1. I had sat down for a second there to relube my right foot that had developed a bit of a hot spot. While doing that the other runner flew through the aid station and didn’t even stop to refill a water bottle. I had my doubts about catching him again at that point, but gave it a shot anyway. The rest of lap two felt pretty much as good as the first, but was a little discouraging because at every out and back on the course I realized that this other runner that I was trying to chase kept on extending the gap between us a little bit farther and farther. I believe that it was by the end of lap three that I wasn’t even seeing him on the returns from the out and backs anymore.

This wasn't the deepest section and the water only got colder as the day went on.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
It was probably around that time at the start/finish AS after lap three that I started sliding into the lowest points of my race experience. It was dark by this point and the water level of the flooded section of the trail near the end of the loop seemed to be getting deeper with every pass. It was certainly getting chillier every time I waded through it. I had finished my third lap just under the 12 hour mark so I was still on pace to meet my time goal, but after 60 miles my body was starting to tire and the pace of my most recent lap was showing it. I conceded the fact to my wife that my time goal was not going to happen today. Then I started complaining about my feet hurting. That’s when she hit me with a shocker that I didn’t believe. She told me I was in fourth place. I didn’t argue, but I didn’t believe her either. No one had passed me, not even 100k runners. I didn’t give it much more thought at the aid station and prepped for my next lap. I put on a heavier thermal three quarters zip down and gloves. I took in some calories, pretty much just simple sugars which had been the majority of my fuel thus far. Then chewed down some candied ginger to hopefully settle my stomach which had begun to feel a little disgruntled. With that I headed out into the night for loop four.

My before (left) and after (right) pics.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
My fourth loop may have been the toughest for me. I’m pretty sure it was my slowest. Emotionally, it was the lowest I got during the whole event. I wasn’t holding a high importance on placement at this race. But when I was under the impression that I was securely in second while sliding into a low point and at that moment was told I was actually a couple places back from where I thought I was it affected me. More than it ever should have. During much of that fourth loop I replayed all the laps from earlier in the day trying to figure out how two people passed me without my noticing. It didn’t add up. Then I started getting frustrated with the out and backs. The first long out and back to the hole puncher was my nemesis while I ran it. “I only have to run this stupid out and back one more time”, was my mantra for it during that lap. I don’t know why, but that one really got to me. By this point I was finding many parts of the course that were no longer runnable for me. The miles had taken their toll and my mental outlook had changed. I knew it was bad at one point when I caught my toe on a small rock and stumbled but stayed on my feet. Rather than just being happy that I didn’t full on superman and land on my face I stopped to look at the rock that I tripped on and call it a few choice words. When I started running again after that incident and gave it a little thought I was able to laugh at myself over it. Thankfully for that event and seeing the comedy of it in the moment my attitude started to turn around a bit. It was during this fourth passing through the now nippy water that I began recognizing how lucky I was to be in that nearly waist deep water. Locals said that the water level in the creek was higher than they had ever seen it. One more in a long string of chance occurrences that led to me being waist deep in the cold water in the middle of an Iowa night saying to myself “this is what I do for fun!”

Crossing the finish line!
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
That fourth lap took me about 5.5 hours putting me at about 17.5 hours to reach the 80 mile mark with one loop left to finish. Coming into the start/finish aid station this time I felt like I was still in a bit of a funk, but not as bad as I had been for the majority of the fourth lap. I think the lack of sleep was catching up to me as I was feeling more sleepy and overall grogginess than I ever have at any previous 100 mile attempt. But with only 20 miles to go the end was in sight which motivated me and reignited a bit of fight in me. My wife told me again that I was still in fourth place and that another runner had left the AS a few minutes before me. Last time she told me this I didn’t believe her, but I had accepted it at this point. However, like I said I had a bit of fight back in me at this point, I argued with her for just a few sentences about how that wasn’t possible. Not wanting to waste time and just wanting to get this done, I quit arguing pretty quickly and headed out from the aid station to see if I could catch any of these runners that had passed me. In hindsight, that may have been what pushed me to pick up my pace a bit for my last lap. I passed a few runners over the course of that final lap moving better and more determinedly than the previous lap. I wouldn’t find out until the finish though that they were all 100k runners. During this last lap I moved better between aid stations, but spent a bit more time refueling and enjoying the mental boost from the volunteers there. And the volunteers at these aid stations were stellar. Unbeknownst to me at the time, but I actually spent a bit of time with the legendary Ann Trason at my final aid station stop. I found out later that she was even at the race when the race photos were posted. To think, I spent my last aid station stop with Ann Trason debating whether or not to take a shot of Fireball before heading to the finish. If I had known who I was with at the time I’m sure I probably would have had some other questions, but it was a very fun aid station stop with some laughs regardless. And yes, in the end I did take the Fireball shot before heading out for the last stretch to the finish.

My first time to ever literally occupy a podium spot after a race!
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
The smell of a water treatment facility never smelt so sweet as it did during that final pass by it when I knew I was within a mile of the finish line. I happily returned to the finish line for the last time to be pleasantly surprised that my wife and kids were all awake and there waiting to cheer for me as I made my way across the finish line. Nothing in my experience will give you a greater boost of energy than having your kids cheer for you at the finish of a 100 miler. At that moment if you asked me I would have told you I could run another hundred. The RD, Joshua Sun, and a group of super energetic and cheerful volunteers were all waiting as well to congratulate me on the finish. Shortly after coming in the photographer asked to get my after pic as they were taking before and after pics for all the runners. She then told me to make sure I get my buckle and hardware from Josh. He was right there handing me the biggest buckle I’ve received for any race and the only one in the shape of the state of Iowa. He then proceeded to hand me a second place finisher award. A bit confused I questioned why I was receiving it. He went on to tell me that I had been in second place pretty much the whole race, ever since the first lap. I was pleasantly surprised by this and then realized that all the runners I had passed during the last lap were 100k runners. It turns out that my wife was getting tracking information off of some live updates and apparently the information was incorrect. Whether it helped or hurt my overall time being fed that information, I can’t know. What I do know is that it definitely
I got chilly quickly after the finish. And the sun surprised me,
but damn that was some good hot chocolate!
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
brought me down emotionally for that fourth lap, but it got me to push harder for the final lap. Regardless, it made those last two laps much more interesting than they would have been otherwise and provided a decent amount of laughs when I recounted the story after receiving the second place finisher award. And in the end, even though I missed my time goal, I was happy with my official finish time of 22:38:10, good enough for second overall.




Scott Snell
November 10, 2018



I made it to my buddy's wedding with my lovely wife and was even able to dance, albeit a little awkwardly. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Now Foods BCAA Big 6 Sports Supplement


Disclaimer: I received Now Foods BCAA Big 6 - Grape and Watermelon flavor sports supplement and a NOW Sports shaker bottle to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

If you read the disclaimer above, you’ll know that I received Now Foods BCAA Big 6 grape and watermelon flavored sports supplements at no cost to try out and review. As a newer BibRave Pro, I’m still feeling out what opportunities and responsibilities come along with it. Although I’m not a regular user of almost any sports supplements, when this opportunity presented itself it seemed like a perfect time to incorporate the use of a sports supplement into my workout routine with no financial risk. Prior to this trial, the only sports supplement I’ve ever used regularly is a whey protein powder which I typically use in a recovery shake after running maybe 2-3 times a week. So that may beg the question of why should anyone listen to what someone who doesn’t use sports supplements have to say about their first time trial using a sports supplement. And I would answer that because I am not a sports supplement user I can report on how using Now Foods BCAA Big 6 sports supplement during training compared to my training and racing without the use of any sports supplements. Because I am a sample size of one, whatever I report will not prove or disprove anything. This is simply a report of my experience using Now Foods BCAA Big 6 sports supplement.


So what are BCAAs? Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) are essential amino acids that serve as the building blocks of protein, which helps to fuel your muscles during a workout and can also help support muscle recovery post-workout. They’re called essential because the body doesn’t make them on its own, so you need to supplement or get them from your diet. Since I have never supplemented with BCAAs in the past, I can only assume that I’ve been getting all the BCAAs required to fuel my training runs from my diet.

I began incorporating Now Foods BCAA Big 6 sports supplement in hopes that my training runs would improve or that I would at a minimum feel like recovery time was reduced. Up until writing this post I had not done any extensive research, but the information I had seen about the benefits of using BCAA supplements for endurance sports was not extremely convincing. Mittleman et al. (1998) reported prolonged exercise performance in test subjects receiving a BCAA supplement when subjected to heat compared to subjects receiving a placebo treatment. The cycle time to exhaustion increased for both men and women test subjects that received the BCAA treatment. Bloomstrand et al. (1991) reported improved mental acuity after a 30 km race of test subjects receiving a BCAA treatment during the run compared to test subjects receiving a placebo treatment during the race. The same study also examined the effect of BCAA treatment on marathon times. Sub 3:05 marathon runners showed no significant effect with BCAA treatments. However, marathon performance was improved with the use of BCAA supplement for 3:05-3:30 marathon runners. Since I fall outside of the range of marathon runners included in the study, I hope the trend of improved performance continues for 3:30-4:00 marathon runners like myself.

With the few studies I looked at reporting improved running performance and/or endurance with the use of BCAA supplements, it raised my hopes for improved results with my own trials. I began using Now Foods BCAA Big 6 sports supplement in mid September and continued its use for a little over a month until the last week of October. During this period I trained for and ran two races: The Squatchung Surprise 6 Hour and The Mines of Spain 100 miler. For those two races I finished first overall and second overall respectively. I’m not crediting the use of Now Foods BCAA Big 6 sports supplement for my performance at those two events, but it certainly didn’t hinder my performance either given the results. Having less than two months of experience using Now Foods BCAA Big 6 sports supplement, it is hard to come to any substantial conclusions. I performed well and felt good while using the supplements, but it’s impossible to say that I wouldn’t have felt and done just as well without the use of the supplements. Even without any definitive results to show, I plan to use Now Foods BCAA Big 6 sports supplement early next year when I’m training for and hoping to achieve a PR at the Novo Nordisk NJ Marathon.


What I can say definitively about Now Foods BCAA Big 6 sports supplement is that it was easy for me to digest and I never had a problem with it upsetting my stomach when consumed while running. I drank two servings during the course of The Squatchung Surprise 6 Hour event and five servings over the course of about 22.5 hours during the Mines of Spain 100 miler. During the six hour event I had no stomach issues. I was using this event as a test before drinking the supplement for the course of the 100 mile event. Since it sat well in my stomach for the six hour event I decided to drink it mixed with Tailwind for the entirety of the 100 mile event. My stomach felt good for about 80 miles of that race and just felt slightly upset for about a 20 mile stretch of the race. The upset stomach I did experience was most likely due to the fuels I was taking in during the race and not because of the Now Foods BCAA Big 6 sports supplement. You can only eat so many gels washed down with Mountain Dew before your stomach starts to protest.

A photo from the six hour event.
On a subjective note, I found the taste of both flavors of Now Foods BCAA Big 6 sports supplements to be agreeable. Before trying them I feared that they would be overly sweet or very strongly flavored. It turned out they were neither of those. I wouldn’t call either of the flavors sweet and the flavors for both were mild which I appreciated. I have found strongly flavored hydration products to become almost unbearable to consume after a certain amount of time. I would even call both flavors refreshing if mixed with cold water and consumed right after a run in the heat. In addition to this, Now Foods BCAA Big 6 sports supplement was super easy and fast to mix using their shaker bottle.


Why NOW® Sports? Well, I felt safe using their products. It’s a clean, highly-tested brand. They conduct more than 16,000 tests each month for identity, purity, strength and composition to ensure that what’s on the label is in the bottle. AND, now they’re third-party certified via Informed-Sport for added product purity assurance. The Informed-Sport program certifies that their products have been tested for more than 200 banned substances by their world-class sports anti-doping lab.


From October 1-November 15, use code 20NOWBCAA on Amazon.com (or visit this link https://www.amazon.com/promocode/A1G65M39SCQHX5) for 20% off both varieties of BCAA Big 6. Code is limited to one-time use only.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Bloomstrand, E., P. Hassmén, B. Ekblom, and E.A. Newsholme. 1991. Administration of branched chain amino acids during sustained exercise — effects on performance and on plasma concentration of some amino acids. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology 63(2): 83–88.

Mittleman, K.D., M.R. Ricci, and S.P. Bailey. 1998. Branched-chain amino acids prolong exercise during heat stress in men and women. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 30(1): 83-91.















Friday, October 12, 2018

2018 Squatchung Surprise 6 Hour Race

Fueled By Candy Corn and Mountain Dew

Disclaimer: I received Now Sports BCAA Big 6 Natural Watermelon Flavor sports supplement to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!
At the starting line.
Credit for all photos: Sassquad Trail Running
“Everything went just as planned, nearly accurate down to the second.” That’s something you usually can’t say about running an ultra where the race format consists of running laps of four differently lengthed loops while being randomly assigned a said loop via the draw of a colored golf ball out of a bucket for six hours. But, that’s exactly what I’m saying now as I report on my race at the Squatchung Surprise. This was the inaugural running of the Squatchung Surprise, organized and implemented by Sassquad Trail Running. While the Sassquad Trail Running group has only been putting on races for maybe a year or slightly over a year now, after running two of their events (the first being the Fat Sass Switchback Challenge) they have quickly become my favorite NJ based group that organizes trail running events in NJ. They keep their events fun and unique by changing up the race formats. Additionally, they seem to always have a charity benefit associated with each event. This event benefitted Operation Chillout, a nonprofit which aims to end homelessness particularly for veterans of our military services.

The four loops.
The Squatchung Surprise took place at Watchung Reservation in Mountainside, New Jersey on Saturday September 29, 2018. Like many of the other Sassquad Trail Running events, this one offered multiple race options: a 5k, a three hour, and a six hour event. I was really excited to run this race as it used a format I had never experienced before. I’m not sure if this race format even has an accepted name, so I’ll do my best to just describe it. More or less, each runner is randomly assigned a certain trail loop to run by drawing a colored golf ball out of a bucket. The color of the golf ball corresponds to a specific trail loop. At this particular event there were four loops of varying distances and elevation gain: blue loop (two miles), yellow loop (three miles), red loop (four miles), and the green loop (5 miles). In addition to the blue, yellow, red, and green balls there was also a black ball which if drawn meant the runner got to choose which loop they wanted to run. This process was continued for the duration of the event and like most other timed events, the runner with the most miles at the end is the winner.

The drawing of  another golf ball.
It would seem that this format basically comes down to chance, however the format throws a curveball at you in the last hour of the event where if you employ a bit of strategy it could benefit you quite a bit. And if you have a bit of luck, as I did, it will benefit you even more. This hiccup in the format forces the runner to make a choice when they cross the finish/start line during the final hour of the timed event. Whether it’s one minute or 50 minutes into the final hour the runner must choose whether to continue drawing balls and running random loops or opt to run a paved, flat half mile loop. The catch is you are only allowed to run the paved loop for the last half hour. So if you finish your trail loop just a couple minutes after the five hour mark and opt to run the paved loop you’ll have to spend the next twenty some minutes waiting until the start of the mini loops. In the same situation if you opt to continue to draw balls and get the green five miler and end up not finishing the loop before the six hour mark you get zero miles added to your total mileage for that last hour. Hence the strategic decision. And whatever decision you make is final for the remainder of the event.

Still high energy at this point!
I went into this race with a definite strategy and several major goals. My first goal was to get a long training run in. I was using this race as my final long training run in preparation for the upcoming 100 miler I’m running in October, Mines of Spain. I figured whatever mileage I ran, pushing myself for six hours at a trail race would give me a better workout than a set distance long run. Not to mention it would be far more fun. My second goal was to test out how my stomach would handle a new supplement I’ve been training with during a race. I’ve been using Now Sports BCAA Big 6 (watermelon flavor) supplement either before or after runs, but had never used it while running. I figured this would be a great opportunity to test it out and make sure it didn’t disagree with my stomach if taken for an extended period while running. My last goal was to get as many miles as possible and have a good time doing it.

Some sweet swag!
I checked in at the Loop Pavilion of Watchung Reservation, grabbed some pretty sweet race swag and drew my first ball of the day prior to the start. Blue. I’d be running the shortest of the laps to start the race. After a little downtime before the start the RD made a few announcements and went over the rules of the race format a final time. And after that we started promptly at 9 AM. All loops started on a common easily runnable trail. After about a quarter mile you reached the first fork in the trail with red/green going left and yellow/blue going right. I quickly realized that remembering which color to follow every lap could become a challenge as I almost took the wrong path initially because I was just following a couple other runners in front of me who were going down a different colored path than me. I caught myself right away this time and vowed to be more cognizant of my loop color going forward. The blue loop simply made a short loop around Lake Surprise. At about the one mile point the other three trail loops merged back on to the blue loop and all four loops were identical for the last mile back to the aid station area.

Feeling good with a pouch full of candy corn.
Next I drew a red ball for the four mile loop. I enjoyed the red loop as it was a bit longer and felt like you weren’t just doing a quick lap before arriving back to draw another ball. I liked the red so much that when I drew a black ball next I chose to do red again. Next I drew a red and then a yellow. The yellow three mile loop felt pretty similar to the red, just a little shorter. For my sixth ball I finally drew a green. I was bit excited as I would finally see the last of the four loops. My excitement ended when I reached the new section of the green loop and realized it was probably the most technical of all the loops and had the most gain. It wasn’t ridiculously tough, but just had elements that slowed you down more than the other loops. There was what felt like a long sloppy wet and heavily rooted section. Then a bit of a more rocky slick section. It could have been the miles I already had on my legs, but I’m pretty sure the terrain had something to do with it as it was without question my slowest paced lap of the day. I got back to the aid station and hoped to not have to run the green loop again.

And now a mouth full of candy corn.
At this point I was a little past the halfway point (about 3:20 into the event). I decided to refill my bottle with my watermelon flavor Now Sports BCAA Big 6 supplement with a second serving as my stomach and the rest of my body was still feeling good. Up to this point, other than calories from the electrolyte drink mix provided at the aid station the only calories I had consumed were handfuls of candy corn and the very similar candy pumpkins. This seemed to be working well as a fuel source in place of gels which weren’t offered and I’m too cheap to buy so I stuck with it, packing a sandwich baggie of the delicious dyed fructose into the pocket of my hydration belt before heading back out on the yellow loop. I made it back to the aid station by the four hour mark, drew a blue ball, and was back after that lap by the 4:20 mark. Up to this point I hadn’t given much thought to which loop I was assigned. But it was getting to the time of the event where luck and strategy would start to play a role. And I got a good deal of luck going forward. I drew a black ball and chose red as I figured as long as I maintained a decent pace I’d be back just before the five hour mark to draw at least one more ball before being forced to make the decision of running the paved loop or continuing to run random loops. I had to push a bit, but finished the four mile loop with a few minutes to spare before the five hour mark. I drew another ball and as luck would have it I got black again, runner’s choice! It took me awhile to decide, but I finally chose the yellow planning to take the three mile loop at an easier pace and get back right before the half mile paved loop run started. The timing was a thing of beauty, a dang masterpiece if you will. I made it back after the three mile loop just as the runners were given the starting signal on the paved loop!

The group of runners just prior to the last half hour of the race (I was just finishing my last trail loop at this time).
I ran through the aid station without stopping, I just slowed down long enough to let the volunteers know that I was opting for the paved loop for the last half hour. I dropped my hydration belt and joined the crowd of runners starting their paved laps. My goal for the last half hour was to run sub 8 min/mile pace which would give me 3.5 miles in 28 minutes and allow two minutes of fluff time in case I felt worn out towards the end. Amazingly, I still felt really good for having just run five and a half hours of trails and I cranked out two sub 8 miles without feeling like I was redlining it. With my goal in reach, I eased off for the last mile and a half knowing that I wouldn’t be able to sprint the remaining 14 minutes of the race to only add an extra half mile to my total. Some people may think that running a half mile paved loop for the last half hour of a six hour trail race sounds like a terrible thing. I would disagree with those people. I thought it was fun to push hard after a long day of running to see what’s left. I also found it a bit comical as it reminded me of the training runs I did with the Runhole crew early this year. The chief Runhole himself, Jon Nicholson, decided that after two 25ish mile days of running the second half of the Eastern States 100 course that it would be a good idea to extend the run a bit beyond the actual finish area of the course and add about a half mile of paved road section before reaching the lot where our cars were parked. I appreciated the gesture after I realized it was a bit of a joke when he kept on saying how great it felt to “open it up a little” and “stretch the legs out.” I borrowed the jokes and made sure to let the other runners know that I was having a good time that last half hour “stretching my legs out” and “opening it up a little” before the finish. If it weren’t for that Runhole training run I definitely wouldn’t have appreciated that last half hour of laps as much.

Early in the day while the tracking board was still looking empty.
With the six hours of the event passed, I headed back to the aid station to have my Sassport checked and find out my final mileage. The Sassport is a small paper booklet that all the timed event runners carried with them for each lap. At about the halfway point of every loop was a box with colored stickers corresponding to the loop it was on. It was the runner’s responsibility to make sure to stop and grab a sticker placing it in the their Sassport in the same sequence as the runner mileage tracking board at the start finish area. At the check in area, volunteers assisted with recording the runner’s laps on the board and totaled the runners’ mileage after every finished lap. At the end of the timed events, volunteers checked every runners’ Sassport against the tracking board. I’m not sure what the official rule is, but I assume that if there was a discrepancy between the two that unverified (missing/incorrect color sticker) laps would not be included in the runners’ total distance. I was a bit nervous as my Sassport was checked as I hoped I had not forgotten to stop for a sticker at every loop. Thankfully they were all there and gave me a total official mileage for the day of 38.1 which was good enough for first place overall!


Me with an awesome award to take home.
Having not looked at my mileage or the standings of any runners all day, this was like the proverbial icing on the cake, the cherry on top. My strategy regarding timing had worked out perfectly pretty much to the second. Where I needed to have a bit of luck it worked out as I drew the appropriately colored balls. I got the minimum 50k training run in that I wanted and then some. The whole day my stomach felt great with zero issues arising from testing out a new supplement (Now Sports BCAA Big 6) or from grazing on candy corn washed down by Mountain Dew all day! I can’t point to one thing that made this such a great race day for me, but I can point to many things that went well.


Scott Snell
October 12, 2018



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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Why I'm Running The Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon

Who's running the New Jersey Marathon?
Disclaimer: I received free entry to The Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!


Use discount code "NJMBIBRAVE19" to receive $5 off any distance (5K, Half Marathon, Marathon, Marathon Relay)!


Before the start getting ready.
So this post isn’t about trail running or ultrarunning. Although those flavors of running are the two that I’m most passionate about, I do the majority of my training on roads. Not because I prefer roads, but simply out of convenience. If I’m pressed for time and want to get some miles in I usually opt to have more time for more miles on roads around my neighborhood rather than to spend the extra time driving to trails to run. But this post is even more focused on road running than that as I am writing to explain why I decided to run my second ever road marathon, the 2019 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon.

At the starting line in Cape May!
Why would an ultrarunner/trail runner choose to run a road marathon? Well, there are several answers to that question. The first being to seek the answer to an entirely different question, “will I be able to run a marathon faster today than I was able to 10 years ago?”. The last and only official marathon I have run was the 2009 Ocean Drive Marathon. Since I ran that marathon they have changed the course to an
out and back, but the old course was a point to point starting as far south as you can go in New Jersey, Cape May, and ending in the shore town that I called home at the time, Sea Isle City. Getting dropped off at the start and then running 26 miles to be within a few blocks of home was a really cool first time marathon experience. I really enjoyed it and planned to run more. However, after nearly 10 years now I have yet to run marathon number two. Not because I got away from running, but because I wanted to run farther. Since that first marathon I’ve been focused on ultras and trail running. At the time of the 2019 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon it will have been a little over 10 years since my first marathon and it seems like an ideal time to test the fitness of 39 year old Scott against the fitness of 29 year old Scott. I will be running the NJ marathon with a singular goal: to finish in under 3:43:02 which is my only official marathon time.

Somewhere midway through crossing a bridge between shore towns.
Finished (superhero pose)!
Happy to be done!
Since it’s been so long since running a road marathon, I’m pretty excited to go through the whole experience again. And that fact that I’m shooting for what will technically be my marathon PR, it makes it even more exciting. What am I excited about that a road marathon offers that I don’t find at trail ultras? Well, mainly crowds. Crowds of runners and spectators cheering for the runners. As much as I love trail ultras, they can become a bit lonesome for some stretches between aid stations. I don’t look at that as a negative; I enjoy running alone swimming in my own random thoughts. But I enjoy some variety and a road marathon will offer that as I’m sure for the vast majority of the 26.2 miles of the NJ Marathon I’ll either be around other runners or making my way down spectator lined streets.

Proud of finishing my longest run to date, little did
 I know that I'd be chasing ultramarathons next.
And for the final answer to the “Why”, because opportunity knocked so I answered. For the last couple years of running ultras I’ve wondered if I could run a faster marathon than I did in 2009. I’ve run plenty of marathon distance training runs, some of which were faster than my 2009 marathon time, but I don’t feel honest calling those PRs as they were not official marathon times on measured courses. So, when after a few months as a BibRave Pro the offer to run the NJ marathon was presented to me, how could I say no? Obviously it was a no brainer to accept and find out what I can do on flat road marathon course so close to home for me.

And we still had some time for fun with friends and family before the course closed!


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Five More Reasons To Run San Ramon Valley Education Foundation's (SRVEF) 35th Annual Run For Education

Disclaimer: I’m promoting the Run San Ramon Valley Education Foundation's (SRVEF) 35th Annual Run For Education as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to find and write race reviews!”

Use Discount Code: BIBRAVE5 - which is good for $5 off

6.  Lots of Swag Options
10k: The first 500 registered runners will receive commemorative 35th anniversary running sleeves and a Run for Education tech shirt in lieu of a cotton shirt!

All 5K Runners receive a Run for Education cotton shirt. All 5K TIMED runners will receive a FINISHER MEDAL


7.  Breakfast burritos
Who doesn’t enjoy a delicious breakfast burrito? And these ones look pretty dang tasty; I see egg, cheese, potato, and ham!

8.  Health and Wellness Expo


SATURDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2018 FROM 10AM-4PM at Iron Horse Middle School
The San Ramon Valley Education Foundation's Health and Wellness Expo before the run provides entertainment from local chorus and bands, an entertaining Mascot Dance Off for the kids, and a great selection of food trucks to fuel up at. All this while picking up your bib and race bag. Oh, and lets not forget the extensive list of vendor tables to check out: 
Vendor booths at past expos have included: Stanford Children's Health, Sports Basement, Whole Foods, BYOG, Noodles & Company, Crunch Fitness, Tri-Valley Orthodontics, GymGuyz, US Cryotherapy, Danville Fit Body Boot Camp, Intero Chiropractic, Total Wellness Chiropractic, SitterFriends, Elements Massage, Studio Mandala Yoga, Healthy Lifestyle for Youth.

Food vendors from previous years have included: Creme si Bon, Iron Horse Kettlecorn, Mustache Mike's Italian Ice, El Gran Taco Loco, Forni Di Sbarro, Golnazar Gourmet Ice Cream, BSA Troop 834/Jamba Juice, Izzy's Frozen Custard

9.  Team Building Options
Corporate Team Challenge
The San Ramon Valley Education Foundation's Run For Education’s Corporate Team Challenge provides a team building opportunity while promoting health and fitness within your company. There is also the chance to earn prizes for your company, not to mention the bragging rights that will be earned.

1s​t​ Place – Fitness Party at The Studio in Danville
2n​d​ Place – Catered lunch brought to your office by Dos Coyotes
3r​d​ Place – Drawing for a $100 Forward Motion Gift Certificate


Fifth Grade Walk Team
The Fifth Grade Walk Team is sponsered by Toll Brothers and provides fifth grade 5k runners with bonus swag and the chance for the students to win a pizza party and/or an ice cream party!
    1. An Exclusive Toll Brothers 5th Grade Walk Team t-shirt in addition to the Run for Education t-shirt (first 500 registered 5th graders).
    2. The school with the most 5th graders registered for The Run will receive a Pizza Party from Mountain Mike’s Pizza for all the students in 5th grade.
    3. An extra bonus for the schools built by Toll Brothers (Bella Vista, Coyote Creek, Creekside and Quail Run): The school with the most 5th graders registered for The Run will get an Ice Cream Party for the entire 5th grade.


10.  Great Race Photos
I'll let the awesome race photos speak for themselves...