3 Days at the Fair race report
This past weekend I ran the 12 hour race at Three Days at the Fair. The race is one of many races held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in northwestern NJ. There are also 72, 48, 24, and 6 hour options that start as early as Thursday morning. Last year, Phil McCarthy set the American record for 48 hours at the race and it seemed like he was coming back this year to do it again. I decided to do the race for a few reasons. It was six weeks after Umstead so hypothetically I’d have enough time to recover and see what sort of shape I was in. It was held at night (9pm Saturday to 9am Sunday) and I’ve never run through the night before so I figured it would be good to get some experience with that prior to the 24 hour races I’ll be attempting later this year. And it was in NJ, which meant I culd go home for Mother’s Day weekend and my family could actually come see me run an ultra.
This won’t be as long as some of the tomes I’ve written about other similarly long races. There’s really not THAT much to say and I don’t feel like rehashing every one of the 98 laps I completed. If you’re the kind of person who likes to read the spoilers, I ran a lot. 84.06 miles to be exact. And I won. By about 21 miles. For that, I got a cool ceramic trophy thing that I had to leave at my parents house because there was no room in my bag to fly home with. I also got pretty tired. And sore.
A slightly more elaborated version of events:
Friday night I got back to LI late-ish, after working almost 10 hours. I jogged around the neighborhood with Scott and went to bed much later than planned. Saturday was weird, I didn’t really know how to prepare for running all night. So I slept as late as I could, which turned out to be about 10:30am. I figured maybe I could nap later (never happened). Getting out the door with my family is ALWAYS an adventure and this was no different. The four of us were on the road for NJ shortly after 2 and arrive around 4-4:30. It was pretty warm at the fairgrounds and I saw only a few runners trucking away. I tried to guess which ones were doing which races based on how fresh they looked. Check in, get a really sweet jacket, head to a nearby diner around 5 for my ‘last meal’ and then Walmart for some last minute supplies (pepto and Boost, both of which would come in handy later… FORESHADOWING!!!). We got back to the fairgrounds around 7 and I just relaxed, in the car, then by the race, going to the bathroom, going over my stuff, whatever to kill some time. With about a half hour to go before the start I began getting ready in earnest, changing into my race gear, going to the bathroom, A&Ding (yes, I turned it into a verb), shoes (I was wearing a brand new pair of Brooks Green Silences, not exactly the first shoe that comes to mind when thinking about running for 12 hours but I wanted to go fast for the first few hours and I knew that was a good shoe to do that in), going over the plan with my family, etc. With three minutes to go I went over to the start area where the other dozen or so 12 hour racers were assembled. One last pee and check on my laces and I got ready to go.
At 9pm sharp, we were off and running. To fully describe how the race went, and in what context I’m evaluating it after the fact, I suppose it would be helpful to know what my goals and expectations were going into it. I was less concerned about actually running the 12 hour race than I was about hitting certain intermediate distances. What I REALLY wanted to do was run a fastish 50 mile split, and hopefully hold on for 100k. After that, I was hoping I’d have about 4 hours left and I’d just relax and do whatever I could for the remaining time, enjoying myself and experiencing what it’s like to run overnight AND be pretty wrecked (as I was sure I would be after the early push). With that in mind, I bolted off the line like I was running a marathon. Within seconds I could tell I was waaaay out ahead of everyone, and I’m sure I was getting more than a few curious and WTF looks from everyone, runners and spectators alike.
All the races are run on the same ~0.86 mile loop around part of the fairgrounds. There’s minimal elevation change (a slight incline near the start/finish and a slight decline right after, the rest is essentially flat). Most people find the prospect of running in tiny circles horrifying but I actually like it, primarily because it makes logistics simple and I didn’t need to run while holding anything. Anyway, on the first loop, I was cruising along and then I promptly got myself lost. Yes, I got lost. On a 0.86 mile, well lit loop. That’s actually probably the most impressive thing I did the entire race! I realized my folly when I looked at the Garmin and saw I had almost run a mile. With no lights or finish area or runners in sight. Whoops! Angrily I backtracked, looking for another human being or sign of where to go. Initially I couldn’t see any. Finally I saw where I had missed the turn and went the right way. I finished the first loop behind a few runners who were probably pretty surprised to see me passing them after one lap, as clearly I wasn’t going THAT fast.
There’s really not that much else to write about. For the next few hours I was cruising along right around 7:00 pace. Early on, the whole family stayed up and helped out. They’d hand me water or coconut water or a gel or whatever I asked for and pick it up on the other side of the bathrooms that we lollipopped around. It went pretty smoothly for the most part. I split about 3:15-16 for the first marathon+ and at that point I’m sure most people assumed I was an idiot who had no idea what he was doing and would blow up. Even my mom told me I was going too fast at one point. I felt pretty good, and I was moving well, and I knew it would suck later but that wasn’t the main issue. On the other hand, there IS something exhilarating and motivating about knowing that everyone is just waiting for you to explode. It’s a feeling I’ve gotten familiar with the past few months, trying to push myself to prove these hypothetical doubters wrong. It’s a racing style I know Pre would approve of. It’s some kind of fun.
Anyway, I had one bathroom trip a little before 50 miles, but I downed some Pepto and it didn’t seem to become a bigger issue like in Georgia. I think I split around 6:30 for 50 miles, a little slower than planned but it was also a little over 50 miles and I had run some bonus distance on that first lap. So, right on. A little before I got there though, I started having the familiar top of left foot, left ankle pain/soreness and that was annoying. Everything else felt pretty good but the pain was persistent without ever escalating to the point where I needed to stop. It was after 3am and I was experiencing a sort of getting tired that I don’t really think is completely attributable to running. I was getting tired like I do nowadays when sitting on the recliner watching tv at 1am on the weekends. A more full body tired. Running at night is tough. Of course, I had forgotten any 5 hour energy or other caffeine product. Oh well. I held things together pretty well through 100kish, which I hit around 8:20-8:30 (?). I think. Close enough. I had slowed but I hadn’t blown up completely. The pain in my foot/ankle had actually subsided some. People were still being very encouraging as I went by, which is a really cool aspect of races like this. Everyone is out there doing their thing and truckin away and everyone is SO encouraging and friendly and supportive. I just hope I didn’t come across as a bit of a cold jerk as all I really mustered most of the time was a thumbs up and/or a thanks. I get a little single-mindedly focused and spaced out sometimes running. Some people were actually calling out my name as I passed, which was neat, as I didn’t really recognize anyone so they either 1)knew who I was already which is cool or 2) asked about me at the start/finish. Or my mom went around telling everyone how awesome her son was, but she and my brother went to sleep in the car fairly early on so I figured that unlikely.
Dad was a freakin rockstar. He stayed up THE ENTIRE TIME, every loop having something ready for me, bearing the full brunt of my increasingly decreasing enjoyment of what I was doing and the rising level of overall surliness I was beginning to display. The last 4ish hours were… well, they happened. And that’s about all I can really say about them. I continued to move and complete laps. I had another, longer, bathroom stop and kinda cramped up a bit. I wasn’t going as fast as I had been, nor was I going as fast as I probably COULD have been, but I didn’t care. The sun came out and I was ready to be finished. I began doing some sketchy mental math to figure out the bare minimum effort I’d need to put forth to complete 80ish miles. My mom woke up and she was cheering and I felt bad that she was wasting that energy on me. Dad began asking me what I wanted on the next laps and I kept responding, “to be finished.” It wasn’t even worth a chuckle. With a little less than an hour left I told my dad I’d do two more laps to get to 80.something and then walk a lap or two and be done. That happened. And then I kinda powerwalked/jogged a lap and it wasn’t much slower than the previous few. I had about 29 minutes left and Rick, the AWESOME RD, told me three more laps. Well, balls. In my head, I didn’t really have a choice. So I picked it up a bit. And then at the end of THAT lap, two of the 72 hour runners started BOOKING! Like, FAST. And Rick told me to chase them. So I did. And wouldn’t you know it, I could still RUN. I ran the last two laps and finished with about 6:30 remaining on the clock. Mom told me to go do another and I knew that would be impossible. I was done. 84.06 miles.
I got out of my shoes and assessed the damage — swollen left ankle obviously, some blisters, some chafing, but ultimately nothing too bad. I got this really sweet ceramic trophy for winning. I met a lot of cool people at the awards and after. Sat next to Steve Tursi who also did Umstead and we talked for a bit. He was one of the ones who had been SUPER encouraging throughout the night and I told him how much I appreciated it. Melissa grabbed me before we left and we talked about how we’re doing some of the same races coming up (Finger Lakes and 20in24). It’s funny how I had JUST wrote in my last post about loneliness and meeting people at ultras and all that semi-maudlin sounding nonsense and here I go making some friends. ME! Making friends! Miracles DO happen. I’m still as socially inept and shy as I always am, but ultrarunners are a much friendlier, welcoming group than the majority of people I see in public. It does feel more and more like this is a niche I might actually be able to fit in to, at least somewhat.
I know I mentioned it already but I just have to devote a paragraph to pointing out how ABSOLUTELY AMAZING my family was in this whole endeavor (and this is not just because I know you’re going to read this mom!). It was Mother’s Day weekend and they all drove out with me to NJ and helped me run around in circles for 12 hours overnight and brought such an enthusiasm the whole time. AND mom cooked my favorite, ravioli, Sunday evening. HER day and she cooked ME my favorite meal ‘to celebrate my victory’ or something like that. Dad, who is not a young man anymore, and who routinely goes to bed earliest of the four of us, and who is capable of falling asleep milliseconds after sitting in a chair, stayed up THE ENTIRE NIGHT. And not once looked annoyed or grumpy or anything negative. He was the biggest reason I was able to have as good a race as I did. I was SO HAPPY to have them there to see me do this, much moreso than I was about how I ran or anything like that. They’ve seen me race before, but not in a way that I feel suits me, and not in anywhere near the kind of shape I’m in now. Hopefully I can continue to put on a good show for them in the next few years, give mom something bigger to brag every single person in her phone’s contact list about. Thank you family, we may all be a bit insane but we are my favorite nonetheless.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
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