I don't know if it was the horseshoe, the magic beans, or something else, but I somehow managed to meet my goal this weekend. I came into the race having a fairly rough time last year. I thought I could easily crank out a 100k because the terrain was easier then my Oil Creek race and I did that in under 23 hours. Turns out some bad hydration choices and a twisted knee last year spelled my doom. The nail in the coffin though was that I was one loop short of meeting the minimum to get a glass. A stupid glass, that's all I wanted.
This year was another story. I didn't have a goal of 100k, instead I wanted to do 50 miles. And despite my 3 month taper thanks to work, I felt like I had a chance. It wasn't until I was done that I realized how, dare I say it, easy it was for me this year. Not that it was a cake walk, it wasn't. I certainly had my struggles out there. But I got insanely lucky twice and I never looked back.
So, before the race, I talked things out with my coach and we worked out a nutrition and electrolyte plan. We talked about timing for each loop and it left me with a good feeling that not only would he be there if I needed him during the race, but that he knew what he was talking about and his advice was solid. Not that I doubted him but there's always that temptation to go into things thinking that you know everything. And while I do know what I'm getting into, sometimes I need a reminder that I'm not a genius. After all, how smart can I be if I do ultras?
So the plan was to average 1:45 per 6.25 mile loop. My goal was 8 loops (50 miles) but the option was there to go for more. I would take one GenUCAN serving before the race, then alternate between GenUCAN and Hammer Perpeteum for each loop after that. The main reason for putting Perpeteum in the plan was because I didn't have enough GenUCAN for the whole race. For electrolytes, the plan was to take two Hammer Endurolytes per hour or at least per loop. I would then augment or add to this with Hammer Fizz. The plan also included strict instructions to avoid noodles at the aid stations and that swollen fingers meant too much sodium (something I suffered from last year). I hit nearly every point on the plan with one exception. I'll get to that in a bit.
The night before the race, I headed up to packet pick-up at the park. Traffic wasn't too bad so I made it in time. I got my bib, goodie bag (which included a beer), and timing chip. I also sat down for a dinner of pasta and Italian Bread. I drank some water and met a Facebook friend that's a local runner. He would end up placing 5th over with 75 miles. Crazy. After the speeches and briefing, I headed back home and went to bed around 2130.
Based on my notes from last year, I knew I needed to get up at 0430. So that's what I did. I didn't sleep great the night before but that's pretty normal for the night before a race. I was out the door by 0500 and made a quick pit-stop to grab some cash at the ATM. Every year they have a raffle and I really wanted to win something. I know, I'm like a prize junky or something, but the prizes are generally pretty cool. Plus the money they raise goes to the Semper Fi Fund, a pretty good cause.
So I got to the race right around 0600 but was too late to grab a spot in the regular lot and had to haul it out to the satellite parking lot, a good half mile away. I didn't mind the walk in but dreaded the walk back. I took less stuff than last year and was lucky to have just the right amount of gear. I had my clean clothes, towel, and shower kit in one bag, then divided my race gear into "hot" and "cold." Last year's race was hot during the day and cold at night so I wanted to pre-sort the stuff. It worked out well.
I setup my stuff on the table, checked in, and bought my raffle tickets. One of the race-directors was a bit surprised at how many tickets I bought but I knew it would increase my chances at winning. I guess I figured it was an investment more than anything. Turns out I was right, but I'll get to that. Before I knew it, it was just about time to get going. The race started just a few minutes after 0700 and I was on my way for a day full of trails.
This is the loop that generally goes by without much thought. I was still a little sleepy from getting up so early and I knew I didn't really need to pay too much attention to this loop. One big change this year was they let us choose which direction we wanted to run our loops. Last year was strictly counter-clockwise. This year, the first loop had to be counter-clockwise, but then we could choose which direction we wanted. I talked to another runner the night before and after hearing her thoughts and my experience last year, I knew I'd be going primarily clockwise.
So the first loop was moving along fairly nicely. I stayed with Joyce, a runner I've seen at many local races. I kept her in front of me as much as I could because I knew if she was behind me, I was going too fast. This was one of many great decisions I made during the race. She's often left me behind in races and I know she has a faster pace than I do in the long run. So I knew if I wanted to play it safe, she was my speedometer. As we moved through one of the rocky sections, she dropped behind me a bit but she was still there the rest of the loop. I never really pulled ahead like I wanted to and always walked the hills.
One side-note about the first loop. Last year I found a horseshoe pendant on the course and kept it. It was nothing fancy but looked pretty neat. Until I got it home and looked closer and it looked like skulls instead of nail heads on the horseshoe. So I've kept the bad-luck token for a year with the intention of giving it back to the trail during the race. I didn't remember where I found it last year but I decided during my first loop that I'd leave it on the pet rock pile. And sure enough, when I got to it, that's where I left it.
After the end of the first loop, I came back into the aid station, swapped bottles quickly, and headed back out. Having things set up early saved me a good 5 to 10 minutes. I'm usually pretty fast in and out of aid stations but I knew what I wanted and needed in advance so I set it all up so I could just grab it and go. This did mean that I forgot a few things but they were pretty minor so it had no bearing.
I headed out on loop two and knew I was going clockwise at least once. I had a rough idea of my splits between each section of trail on the first loop. From the Start to the end of the stick (it was a lollipop-style course) was about 20 minutes. From the stick to the road (the halfway point) was 40 minutes. From there to the next road was 20 minutes. Then 10 minutes back to the stick and another 20 minutes back to the Finish. So the pattern was 20-40-20-10-20 per loop, just under 2 hours.
Going clockwise, the pattern was a bit different and kept my mind occupied trying to do the math on which was faster. Since the stick part of the course was the same, I knew I had 20 minutes out and back to book-end the route. Coming out of the stick and going clockwise meant that I was going up a steep hill right off the bat. But I think this paid off in the end. I was slower going up the hills so instead of a 10 minute section, it was more like 15. From there, the trail does a bit of up and down before hitting Miller Farm Road, which, going clockwise, is all downhill. Plus it's a gravel road. I cruised down this taking a few walking breaks because it still felt too fast sometimes. I did this section in about 20 minutes which is about the same as the other direction. But then after the halfway point, headed back to the stick, I went much faster than the 40 minutes it took me in the other direction. That, combined with the easy downhill down the gravel road, sold me on going clockwise.
After this loop, I cruised back into the aid station and took my time. I had bottles to prep, things to exchange, and generally didn't try to rush in and out quickly.
By the third loop, I was slowing down. I was still running, but not as much and not as fast. I was surprised I still had some run left in me and sure enough, but about a third of the way through, I was pretty much done running. I still ran, but it was mostly downhill only and only in short bits and pieces. I was still feeling pretty good but by the halfway point I was feeling sleepy. So I decided to take a nap after this loop instead of waiting until my fourth loop like I did last year. After all, last year wasn't exactly a success for me.
So when I got back to the aid station, I took a nap. Only 15 or 20 minutes and I didn't sleep but I was able to close my eyes and put my feet up. It helped a ton and even though I was a little bit tired when I got up, my feet felt much better.
I was back to walking but feeling better after my rest. I ran bits and pieces but had pretty much left all desire and ability to move fast. I was getting a bit warm too so I was slowing down so I didn't overheat. The last loop was a bit warmer than I wanted so I was thankful when the the clouds came in and the breeze picked up.
As I had on my third loop, I was continuing to monitor the splits between each section to make sure I had done the math correctly. Sure enough, the clockwise loop was still coming out to be faster than counter-clockwise. It helped reassure myself that I was making the right decision and it helped me distract myself mentally that I was close to an aid station or some sort of visual marker. And even though my splits between these markers was getting slower, I wasn't really all that far off my first few laps. So a couple of minutes here and there was tolerable and I could accept it.
As before, I came in and out of the aid station fairly quickly. I dropped stuff and picked stuff up and felt good going back out for more. I did my best not to think about being only halfway to my goal.
This was a dark loop mentally. I'm not sure why but I just started to loose a lot of willpower to move on and continue to do more. It could have been any number of things that triggered this but in the end, I started thinking about the two names that I had written on my bib. I'll get more into the Meb connection later, but over the past week, there were two deaths that made me sad. The first was my high school French teacher. I loved taking French and she was always a happy teacher. She always had a smile on her face and, even though she was strict and firm if you broke the rules, her class was fun to go to. One of the few highlights of the day. The second was the death of a childhood friend's mother. I don't talk to him very much other than when I see him out in public but his mother used to watch me as a kid when my dad would go on travel. She ended up introducing me to sweet cereals and spaghetti with just butter on it. She wasn't trying to introduce me to new things, that was just the normal in their house but completely foreign to me. She always took care of me like a son and I appreciate it now. Not sure I did then, but I do now.
So this loop kind of sucked, mentally and physically. As I got back to the aid station, I knew I needed another nap. Again, I didn't sleep but just laid there with my eyes closed and my feet up. It helped recharge my brain and my body enough to keep going. Once I managed to get back up and rolling, I got my gear in order and headed back out.
This was my an awesome loop. I got lucky as I left the Start and just as I was getting on a roll, a very slow one, two ladies passed by me. They were walking like me, but were moving much faster. Like a parched man in the desert reaching for a glass of ice-cold water, I reached out and latched onto them. I could maintain their speed walk although on any incline, they'd gap me a bit. But I'd catch up on the downhills and any rocky section. Since I could keep up with them, we started talking. I think they needed a distraction and I certainly know I needed anything to get my rear in gear.
As we neared the end of the stick, the went counter-clockwise, the opposite way that I wanted to go. In a split second, I opted to stay with them instead of going my desired way. And I'm glad I did. They paced me through nearly three-quarters of a loop before they finally dropped me on the hills after the gravel road. I still tried to keep them in sight but I knew they'd stay ahead of me. I ran when I could, something I never, NEVER, thought I'd be able to do this late in the game. In the end, they paced me on one of my fastest loops. Nearly as fast as my first couple of loops where I was running.
Holly and Jo were freaking awesome and I appreciated every minute I could spend with them. They would go on to do some crazy miles but they were clearly not new to ultras. Jo seemed to know everybody out there, including the incredible Gary Knipling. Although, everybody in Virginia should know Gary anyway. Anyway, they were awesome.
As I got back to the Finish area, they were just about to head out. I was grateful for their help but felt exhausted. I knew I had spent a lot of energy keeping up with them and needed a loop to regroup and get back to a steadier pace that was slower.
And a slower pace is exactly what I went out and did. I wasn't aiming for 100k, I was aiming for just one more loop after this one. I started making mental notes of little landmarks that were along the way that were completely unnecessary and damn near impossible to find in the dark. But it kept my mind off my second mentally tough loop. I was tired and continually felt a lot of self-pity where I would stop, bend over, wish it was all over, and just pout my way along. Step after step, I just felt lousy.
I came back into the aid station feeling sleepy and exhausted. I knew I needed another break with my feet up. So I laid back down for another nap. Again, I didn't sleep but just laid there with my feet up. My back had been hurting the last few laps but it wasn't until this one that it was really hurting. I tried cracking it, twisting it, stretching it, even looked for a foam roller to steal for a few minutes. In the end, it just needed a few minutes of quality time on a hard surface.
As I began this loop, I felt better, had my goal in sight, and knew I would finish my 50 miles, regardless of how bad things went. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. And again, I got extremely lucky. Just as I started, a guy rolls up behind me and asks me if I was number 6. I wasn't and he seemed disappointed. He rolled by me at a walking speed faster than mine but slower than Loop 6. So again, I latched on. But this time, Mike stayed with me the entire time. As I usually do, I tell people that I'll stay with them as long as I can but I don't want to slow them down. That's a pretty standard agreement that we all run our own races but he was awesome in that he didn't worry about it and said he would stay with me no matter what. So he led for a bit, then as we started clockwise after the stick portion, I began to lead. I'm not sure I kept quite the same speedy pace he did but he kept pushing me (mentally, not physically) from behind. It was just what I needed. And it turns out it was just what he needed. We ran a bit down the gravel road, talked when we felt like it, shut up when we felt like it, and generally kept each other sane and on pace.
And with that, I finished my 50 miles.
After the race, I just chilled out for a minute. I met my goal, briefly, for a nano-second, thought about going for one more loop, then decided to go get some sleep. Turns out I wouldn't sleep much. I got my gear in order and tried to figure out how to hitch a ride to my car. I turned in my chip, chatted for a bit with one of the race directors, and just tried to chill out. Turns out, the race director is pretty freaking awesome. He went and got his car and drove me to my car. How many race directors in a big-time, or even small-time, marathon will leave the Finish line area to drive a runner to their car at 0300? Not many if any at all. This is part of why I love ultra-marathons so much. I still may be a socially awkward penguin, but everyone treats you like family.
Once I got my car moved to the closer parking lot, I tried to take a nap. I had enough time to do it and knew I needed it. Turns out I just stayed awake laying uncomfortably in my car. So I gave up, realized I forgot my flashlight, and used my nearly dead cellphone to walk back to the Finish area. From there, took a shower, I hauled my gear to my car, and chilled out next to the fire. I tried several times to go to sleep but it just never happened. I think with the sun coming up and an empty belly, I just wasn't quite there yet.
I eventually headed up to Mess Hall, grabbed some breakfast, and promptly passed out at the table. I think I slept maybe 10 or 15 minutes but I'm not sure. I just know I ate, put my head down, and suddenly somebody was sitting next to me talking. I picked my head up and grabbed more coffee since it was nearly time for the awards. As I looked around, I saw several of the people that stayed through the night. My good-luck pacers, Jo, Holly, and Mike. The large woman who was my personal hero. The Mexico City crew. And many others.
They went through the Women's and Men's awards with glasses for those getting 50 or more miles, bigger glasses for those getting 75 or more miles, and even bigger glasses for the top 5 finishers. The volunteers also got mugs and a few other goodies. I was happy with my glass, since that was the goal all year long.
And then it was time for the raffle drawings. And boy did I get some evil looks. There were several prizes given away. Large totes to be used for drop bags. A book. Gift cards. Half the money raised. And two, very nice, backpacks. Well, my first prize was the large wheelie-tote for drop bags. I thought it was full of goodies so was pretty happy. Turns out it wasn't full of goodies but that's okay. I can still use it as a tool box, give it to my dad, or even give it away as a prize for next year's raffle. Then I won the book. Well, I already had a copy of Born To Run, so I said no thanks, pick another name. So they did. But since you had to be present to win, and that person wasn't there, they picked another name. Mine. So again I said no thanks and they continued picking names. And then they drew my name for a $40 gift card to a local running store. The number of evil looks I got grew exponentially. And then I won one of the major prizes, the bag. Thankfully, I diverted at least a few of the evil glares when I gave back the gift cards. I really wanted the bag so I figured why be too greedy? Besides, the bag was well worth the cost of the raffle tickets, even if I won nothing else.
The Meb Connection
I mentioned it earlier, but there was a bit of a Meb Keflezighi connection during the race. No, not like I met his brothers, roommate's cousin's uncle or anything like that, but in other ways. First, the GenUCAN. I've known about and used it for a bit before they made a bigger splash in the news with Meb's win at Boston. It's worked fairly well but I haven't trained too much, especially on really long runs. Turns out it works pretty damn well.
The other connection was the related to Madam Rose and Linda Coleman. They both played a role in my life and I wanted some way to honor them and their memory. Turns out Meb once again had a great idea by putting their names on his race bib. So that's what I did. And every time I ran a lap, I'd put a little tally mark under their name. I may not have won the race like Meb, but it made me feel better about doing what I did.
Now, if you thought things have been boring up until now, just wait. It's time to get into the nitty-gritty technical details.
Temps started out at about 55F. Around Noon to 1400, temps were up to about 70F to 75F. It cooled off when the clouds moved in then by 1900, things started to get chilly, especially near the creek bed. By 2200, it was down to about 45F to 50F. Generally, the skies were clear but there was plenty of cloud cover later in the day. And there was a breeze in the afternoon but you didn't feel it too much outside of that. The creek beds were colder than elsewhere, but I knew this having had experience on the course and in similar terrain. At night, the skies were pretty clear since I could see the moon and stars.
Fluids and Fuel:
This is where it gets fun. Per direction from Coach, I started the day with a serving of GenUCAN. Actually, I started with a cold coffee. Then GenUCAN. The coffee got my gut moving enough to do my dookie before the race and the GenUCAN helped fuel the first lap. The first loop I went with water in my hydration pack and Hammer Fizz in my bottle. I had applesauce and two Hammer Enduralytes at the aid station, then went back out with water and a bottle of Hammer Perpeteum for my second loop. For my third loop, I had GenUCAN with a Hammer Fizz tablet mixed in. I did eat a grilled cheese and pierogi and drink some tea prior to the third loop. By the fourth loop I had stopped keeping track of what I ate and drank. But I do know I had more GenUCAN, more Hammer Perpeteum, and more Hammer Fizz. I did not take any more Hammer Enduralytes because I always forgot about them. I did eat a few pieces, small ones though, of pizza around dinner time. I tried to keep the solid food to a minimum and had zero issues with my fueling. Other than the grilled cheese at lunch and pizza at dinner, I had nothing solid until breakfast and didn't feel hungry until then.
My hydration was also on par with what I needed. I could feel myself getting overheated around loop three so I slowed down. By loop 4 or 5, I knew I was a tad behind on my electrolytes so I upped the Hammer Fizz dosage a bit and it worked great. I carried a few tablets with me so I could refill at the halfway aid station if need be. I did that a few times and avoided the chips there. I did frequently have applesauce though. I carried some with me and had some at the aid stations too.
My hydration pack didn't get refilled until the end of the third loop. It helped save time and it helped cool me off in the afternoon when I put ice in it. I also put ice in my bottle a few times in the afternoon too. Other than neglecting my Enduralyte intake, everything was spot on according to plan. I think I skipped one loop of Perpeteum just because I didn't feel like it and knew I needed more electrolytes than I did fuel.
Aches and Pains:
Again, I must have lucked out. I felt pretty good through the first three loops and even into my fourth things were pretty decent. Once I started my regular rotation of loops and naps, my feet could recover enough to make it a little further. By the end of the race, I was still able to move fairly well. And the day after the race I still feel pretty good. Just the usual stiff muscles and sore feet but nothing major considering the distance.
And then we get to the chafing. I had none. You heard that right, I had none. I started the day with BodyGlide on my feet and other sensitive regions. Around the third loop or so, I upgraded to A&D Ointment. And I kept going with the A&D and saw some serious improvement along the way. I did change my socks around loop 4 but other than that, I didn't change a thing about my lube of choice. In fact, I think I'll change to the A&D full-time. And I have a fellow teammate to thank for the idea.
For my gear, I started with my T-Star Running shorts, PRS Fit team shirt, BUFF, and gloves. I also had my Altra Zero Drop Lone Peaks and gaiters. By about Loop 6 or so, I had to take the gaiters off. They were rubbing my ankle and I knew they needed to go. I changed my socks around Loop 4 or 5.
I changed my top for Loop 6 and put on my thermal long sleeve shirt and my PRS Fit team tank top. Turns out, I overheated a bit because of the increased pace. But I'm still glad I had the extra layer. I was afraid of getting cold and I did get chilly because I had slowed down and was near the creek in the later part of the loop. By the last loop I added my windbreaker jacket because I was getting colder thanks to the sweaty thermal layer. Turns out I didn't need it because I was once again moving faster than expected.
I wore my Nathan hydration pack and had almost no issues with it. It did start to rub me a bit on the shoulders but overall, it helped a ton to have the extra water if needed, the gear, and the food.
Loop 1 - 1:49:31
Aid Station 1 - 2:08
Loop 2 - 1:42:20
Aid Station 2 - 9:28
Loop 3 - 1:59:42
Aid Station 3 - 36:27 (includes a 20 minute nap)
Loop 4 - 2:11:03
Aid Station 4 - 11:50
Loop 5 - 2:20:00
Aid Station 5 - 34:33 (includes a 20 minute nap)
Loop 6 - 2:06:51
Aid Station 6 - 8:59
Loop 7 - 2:50:23
Aid Station 7 - 30:45 (includes a 20 minute nap)
Loop 8 - 2:16:21
Finish - 19:30:32
Time Left On The Table - 4:30:00
RHR - 65 (the morning after)
Weight - 224 (the morning after)