FKT: Sean Gavor, Dimo - Delaware & Raritan Canal Trail (NJ) - 2017-05-30

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Total time
19h 14m 0s

Sean Gavor & "Dimo" ran the route self-supported in 19h14m.  A few weeks later Gavor attempted to run the entire route unsupported, carrying only 2 energy bars for calories.  He reported his failed attempt as follows:

See below for my report on the failed D&R Canal Trail FKT attempt I made yesterday. What I learned is that covering the entire distance, while difficult in it's own regard, being 66.4 miles and all, is that doing it Unsupported (Alpine style) is a lot harder than doing it with help. When the day was over, I realized I stumbled upon an incredibly complex biology problem that I'm now convinced needs to be solved. It goes like this:

Depending on the time of year, I have anywhere between 15 hours, 6 minutes (June 21st) and 9 hours, 15 minutes (Dec 21st) to cover the 66.4 miles. This translates to paces of 13:39 min/mile or 8:21 min/mile on the Solstices with varying amounts in-between to account for the way the Earth moves around the Sun. Either way you slice it, I need to go fast. SPEED is Part #1 of the challenge.

Which leads to Part 2. Since you are entirely self-sufficient, the immediate concern becomes "How much water do I need." Part #2 is called HYDROREGULATION. Going fast in Winter costs less water than going fast in Summer but you have less time and need to go a lot faster! Going slower costs a lot less water but puts you in danger of not making the pace. The only way to thread the needle is to know exactly how much water you'll need and plan your attempt date accordingly. The last thing I'll say about Part #2 is that 3500mL of water sounds like a lot but it goes so much faster than you realize. Luckily, it does weigh almost 8 pounds....

...which of course, leads to Part #3 which is the WEIGHT. Alpine style means that you have to carry everything you need right from the start. The name comes from the European tradition of climbing up a mountain really fast and then coming back down with minimal gear. However, these treks are typically only a few miles in length whereas the D&R is over 100 kilometers. When you factor in all the gear you need for that, including all the heavy electronics you need to document the trip, you end up with a pack weighing over 10 pounds which you have to carry the whole way. Wear a 10 pound pack on your next training run and you'll get an idea of how it affects your moving speed.

OK, so that's only 3 parts, not 27, but who's counting. I'm deliberately not including calories as a part of the problem because that's too easy to figure out. Compared to Parts 1-3, calories are almost an afterthought. Completing the "Alpine D&R Challenge" which is what I'm now officially calling the problem, will involve solving Parts 1-3 simultaneously, no small task. Now that the problem has been laid out in front of you, here's how my first attempt at it went...

I started at 5:35 am, 5 minutes after sunrise, because my expensive Spot tracker was not working properly. I need this to give real-time updates to the world to prove I'm actually doing what I say I'm doing. I learn the device only works when facing straight up and not moving, which renders it useless. Scrap it and use option 2 which is Garmin LiveTrack, which ended up working great at the expense of 150 MB of data and a lot of battery life used.

I knew I'd need to go as long as possible without drinking any water so I consumed bottle after bottle of water before I even started. I didn't measure exactly how much but it was over a gallon. And it was good...I made it over 20 miles before I took my first sip of the water I brought. But I did have to stop to pee every mile for the first 12 which cost a good amount of time.

I made it through the 10 and 20 mile points with no issues, other than the fact that my 15:00 min/mile pace was never going to get me to Frenchtown in time (early Part 1 fail). At that point I was still stupidly thinking, "ll run a lot toward the end when the day cools off and the pack is getting much lighter from the disappearing water." I couldn't go faster now because I'd start sweating really bad really fast and I needed to be conservative with my water.

As I predictably fatigued, my pace dropped to a 15:20 mile by Mile 30 but I got a nice boost from the Pete Bak family around 31ish. By then I was already over 1.5L into my water supply, I started drinking around Mile 22. The weather, while cool for June 28th, was still hot enough at 78 degrees to cause a good deal of sweating, which necessitated me drinking more water to keep the pace.

I felt the telltale signs of heat exhaustion coming on before I was anywhere near out of water. This is where, in a race, you begin to apply the ice. But in Summer time when you go Alpine, there is no ice. There is a canal 10 feet to my left which is flowing with cool, refreshing water. But that water is brown and filled with garbage and lots of submerged jagged metal. I am now in the land of Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, and this portion of the "trail" goes straight through the middle of the ghetto.

I hit the water very hard through this stretch because it was 12-4 pm and sunny and there was no shade in town. My pace fell big time and being taunted by the filthy canal water and the bodegas all around me (which contained ice and everything else I needed at the moment) really didn't help. Getting shaken down by bums, "Hey, is that an iPhone, where you get that vest? My name's Wanda, where you live, you cute?" provided an amusing diversion and hastened my pace. But even the drunk drivers trying to run me down on Mulberry, Calhoun, Perry, and Broad streets weren't enough to get moving any faster. I was cooked.

The part after Trenton involved a lot of slow meandering with periodic dry heave breaks, then trying to drink a little more water and keep it down by slowing down even more and then dry heaving again 5 min later and cheering every time no water came out. Small victories, right? I finally decided that I should stop and sit down for 3 minutes around mile 38 and once I did, a band of mosquitoes spotted a hot lunch and bit me all up but at that point I was too stupefied to care.

Upon noticing that my average pace had now dropped to nearly 15:45 min/mile, I realized that there was no way I was completing the challenge so I started to ponder the possibility of stopping. I wasn't interested in just making it to Frenchtown since I did that 3 weeks ago. Granted, that was self-supported and not Alpine but in my definition of Alpine, you still need to follow all park rules, which is why I have to obey the sunrise and sunset times. That's the only official times the park is open.

So as I stumbled into Washington's Crossing, where I knew my good friend John Beck would be waiting to provide some of his legendary Uptown Gentlefriend hospitality and cheer, I knew I'd be asking for a ride somewhere. He took my picture and did his best to get me going again, the 2 mile stretch he spent with me chatting it up did increase my pace, but it also took me out of the running for Alpine style. Unsupported means NO support and at that point John qualified as a pacer. I was now officially done.

John brought me to the train station where I hopped on the next direct train back to New Brunswick. It took me 664 minutes to run here from New Brunswick and due to the wonders of the NJ Transit System, I was back in 18. I stumbled through the Rutgers campus admiring the Summer youthfulness all around me and made it to my car and drove home.

That is how this attempt ended. The last part of this saga is the lessons learned and how to approach any future attempts.

The trick to doing this is getting the right conditions. The day has to be long enough to give you enough time but you can't go so fast that you become all sweaty and end up blowing through your water. Obviously, loading up on water early is required but how can you even run fast with all that liquid in your stomach? I know I can't. Regardless of the time I go, I'll have to start with a few miles of walking just to get everything settled.

I'm noticing that in late April, you get almost 14 hours and there are usually still come cool days left that time of year so that might be best. October and November are perfect running conditions but the most I'd get is 12 hours which is a 10:50 pace. Ironically, this is close to the pace that Rich Riopel and Mike Dixon ran when they did the reverse route from Frenchtown to NB in 2014. I'm not 1/10 of the runner of these two so I think the "fast option" may not work for me. Extending the day to 14 hours in April drops the required pace to 12:40, which is a lot more doable for me.

Gear-wise, I can shed a little weight by ditching the tracker, raincoat, and extra socks. I can replace the heavier battery with a lighter one but with no calories brought for the trip (nor needed) I'm already pretty light to begin with. All my weight is water. The emergency filter weighs nothing and gives me peace of mind. I need 2 garmins and my cell phone for documentation purposes and I need the lube and needle for chafing and blisters. The 1 fl oz bug spray can stay behind in April!

There are more lessons that will become apparent as I think about the problem more but for now, I'm content to enjoy my recovery and get re-hydrated. I'm satisfied with this first attempt and I'm glad I didn't try to push it at all just to get to Frenchtown because I have the race of my life coming up in 3 weeks and the lessons learned here are going to be directly applicable to that endeavor.