On Saturday I ran the Umstead 100 mile Endurance Run. It was my first 100 mile race ever. But to accurately and fully write a recap of this race, I need to go back some beyond four days ago. Back to last June when I went to a Baltimore Road Runners Club picnic. It was there that I talked some with Serge Arbona, mostly about the races he’d done and the ones he had coming up. For those who don’t know, Serge is one of the most accomplished ultrarunners around (and a REALLY nice guy to boot!). I was only a few weeks away from moving to North Carolina and he joked that I should come pace him at Umstead next year, as I was going to be living close by. At the time I had never run more than 31 miles but somehow a seed had been planted. Fast forward to September 7th, the day registration was opening up for this year’s race. Umstead tends to fill up very fast, like five minutes fast. I happened to have a bit of a break at work at noon when registration was set to open. I decided that I would try to register. Whether I got in or not I would take as a sign from the universe on how to proceed going forward. As luck would have it, right around 12:02pm, I was officially registered to run. At that point I had still hadn’t run an ultra since the 50k disaster in DC in November of 2009. But if I didn’t want to waste my money, I was going to run my first 100 miler in a few months.
Fast forward a bit. I ran some longer races last year, to mixed results. I got some experience and miles on my legs. I got a little fat and out of shape by the time I ran Weymouth Woods in January. Fortunately, something clicked after that race. Despite being sorta fat and out of shape I ran reasonably well and reasonably even splits and recovered quicker than I probably ought to have. I guess I made up my mind there to get my shit together and train seriously and maybe I’d be able to survive the whole ordeal.
I had some pretty good, encouraging results leading up to Umstead. But in the few down weeks leading up to the race, I was consistently more looking forward to seeing my friends and some runners that I admire than I was about actually running it. The race was more an excuse for everything else. I remember telling someone only a few days before that I was a little nervous that I wasn’t really feeling nervous or anxious at all. For once I felt like I had done everything right, or as right as I could manage making things up as I go along. By Wednesday of race week my legs felt better than they have ever felt. Ever. I was starting to get a little excited.
Thursday night Katie, my amazing crew chief, flew in from Boston. Despite having extremely limited ultra experience (as in, she crewed for me at Stone Cat and that was it), I was confident that my life was in the best hands possible. Friday morning Johnny showed up and Team Awesome was fully assembled. But the fun was just beginning. Part of why I was so excited about this race was who else was coming down to RUN it. In addition to Serge, Christian was coming down to crew/pace him. As was Dave Ploskonka, another very accomplished ultrarunner from Baltimore who I met when we both paced the 10 miler there last June and then I crewed him at Hellgate last December. Those two I knew, and look up to a great deal as both have run some incredible races and have a ton of knowledge and experience and bad-ass-ness to their credit. In addition to them, last year’s race winner, John Dennis, was running. So were a couple other guys who ran very fast times last year. And Mike Morton, who had already run 13:18 in Florida in January and almost broke the American 24 hour record last September (running 163+ miles). In short, there were A LOT of really good runners there and with a course that is entirely runnable, I was pretty excited to see what would happen.
Friday was a bit of an adventure. Dave’s car got towed in Baltimore so he was having a rough start to the weekend but DID manage to get down here in time to suffer through what was apparently not the most enthralling pre-race briefing ever. We all missed that briefing because we had to drive out to Chapel Hill and pick up Serge and Christian from a mechanic. Apparently Serge’s car was shot. We got to the park a little after 6 and I got my race bib and after Serge and Christian got their stuff out of Johnny’s trunk, the three of us headed to my pre-race pizza place, Bella Mia. Dave joined us and we had a pretty relaxing, delicious dinner. A quick trip to Target and then it was home to get things prepped and get to sleep. Only hours away from the race and I still wasn’t very keyed up. Instead Dave and I were sitting around joking about all sorts of stuff and I was feeling extremely loose and relaxed. I even managed to sleep relatively well.
4 am my alarm went off and I got up easily. Thanks to Katie’s packing the night before, all I really had to do was eat a small bowl of cereal, go to the bathroom, get dressed, and gather my belongings to get out the door. We were all in Johnny’s car and headed to the park around 5am and probably arrived around 5:30. It was drizzling a little but not obnoxiously so. It actually felt a lot like the morning of the Umstead marathon, so I took it as a good sign. I got my Brooks Pureflows on, grabbed my duffel bag and headed up the hill to the start/finish area. It was a pretty crazy scene up there. With 280-some people registered, the start area was extremely crowded with runners and volunteers and crew. I was more than a little overwhelmed and for the first time, feeling some nerves about what I was about to attempt. Instead of trying to digest the magnitude of running 100 miles, I focused on the steps I needed to take to get to the start. I got to the bathroom and applied my A&D ointment (which I FINALLY remembered to thank Dave for giving me that advice, LIFESAVER!), and got my singlet on. I found a spot in the woods to take care of some business. With about three minutes to go I was at the start line, with Johnny and Katie around me. I tied my shoes and then with about 30seconds I worked my way toward the front where I found everyone I expected – Serge, David, Mike, John, and a couple other people I didn’t immediately recognize but who looked fast. This was it. I looked around and spent a moment just enjoying the calm before things got started. I switched my headlamp on and heard them count down. GO!
The nice thing about Umstead (or the awful thing depending on your perspective) is that the 100 miler consists of eight 12.5 mile loops, all of it on the bridle trail, except for the half mile or so stretch that runs between race headquarters and the bridle trail that is run at the start and end of every loop. The bridle trail is made up of extremely well packed gravel (I described it to Johnny early in the week as ‘NCR trail with some hills’) and every step of the course is runnable. Most of the first few miles are flattish, some downhill, some uphill, nothing too intense. There’s a brief section from a little after mile 7 to a little after mile 9 that has some short, steepish ups and downs, and that’s it. I don’t know exactly how much I’ve run the course but I was certain that no one in the field had run more miles on it than I have in the past few months. While knowing what to expect isn’t as important as being in good shape, it definitely was a mental help to know what was coming and when. Doing my first 100 miler, the less surprises, the better as far as I was concerned.
So the race. Yes. We started by running up the park road that led out of camp. Because it was dark I couldn’t quite make out who was who but someone I figured correctly to be Morton darted out quickly ahead, followed closely by Serge and John Dennis. I was briefly up there and I know I said something to Dave before he pulled away too. By the time we hit the bridle trail I was probably in 6th and I was also already sick of my hat which I took off and hung on the gate. Another one or two guys went by me on the airport spur out and back. It also started raining a little harder, enough that as I passed the gate, I ran over and got my hat off it and put it back on, this time ON TOP of my headlamp. The next forty or so minutes were pretty uneventful. I got passed by a few more guys. I think by the time I hit mile 3, I was in 8th or 9th. I had no idea how fast I was running; I was wearing my regular old watch because the rain would mess with the garmin (in retrospect, I think this might have been a good thing). All I knew was I was running what felt pretty relaxed (and if I was being honest with myself, maybe a touch faster than planned). I also felt pretty flat which was initially disappointing. My legs didn’t feel that peppy, and I felt a little sleepy actually. I decided it wasn’t worth worrying about and that when the sun came up I’d probably feel better. As I ran down corkscrew hill, someone I recognized as Jonathan Savage ran by me and as we made our way up the hill on the other side of the bridge, I went by him again. I could say lights waaaaay up ahead already and thought to myself that I should mention to Katie when I got back that somebody was probably gonna crash and burn later.
About 6 miles in, it got light enough to take my headlamp off, FINALLY. I hate that thing. I left it at the aid station just before 7 miles and was off. The first time through the Turkey Creek hills was uneventful. I saw three guys who were waaaay ahead earlier in the loop already starting to come back to me. This whole stretch I was constantly reminding myself NOT to push it on the hills, just relax and take them easy as it was VERY early. By the time I got back out onto Graylyn Road and the lovely mile-ish downhill stretch, I might have gone by another guy. On Graylyn I caught up to another runner who I think was Troy Shellhamer (who I knew had run almost under 16 last year and was probably looking to run even faster this year). We chatted very briefly about how fast some of the guys went out and he mentioned there was some really good runners this year and advised me not to get sucked up in going out too fast with them. It was a good reminder. After that I pulled away a little and continued on. I think the first time I noticed a mile marker was at mile 10 and I noticed I was right around 8:00 pace. Whoa. Not sustainable. BUT! I had exchanged some emails with Ray K about a week earlier and he advised me to go out right about how I was, shoot for a 6:40-7 hour 50 mile split and then try not to die too hard. Maybe not the BEST strategy for someone for their first 100 miler, but I wasn’t really interested in trying to ‘just finish’, I wanted to see how fast I could actually go. I promised myself that I was going to actually race this one. So things were either going to go awesomely, or they were going to get really ugly and be fucking miserable for a long, long time. I didn’t want any in between. I didn’t want mediocre.
Coming back in at the end of loop one, I felt fine. I had wanted to get done with the first loop and feel like I hadn’t really done anything yet and that was pretty much what happened. I had my nutrition plan working (coconut water, honey stinger chews and assorted gels every half hourish, supplement with water and salt at aid stations) so far. I saw a few guys coming out on their second loops as I was coming down the hill at the end of my first. Said hi to Dave who was probably a half mile ahead, and then met Katie and Johnny at the start/finish. I gave them my singlet and hat (both were too wet and would only get wetter and I worried about chafing). By my watch, the first loop took 1:41:47, a little fast but well within reason.
I re-stocked my gels, took a fresh handheld, and was off on number two in seventh place. There were a couple guys pretty close to me on the way in as I was going out. The second lap was fairly uneventful. The sun had come up but it was very overcast and still sort of drizzling. It actually felt really good to me and I kept hoping it would stay like this all day. Around 2 miles in, I came up on 6th place, who I recognized as Darian. He had also run the Triple Lakes 40 miler back in October. We chatted for a few miles before I pulled away around mile 4 (he went on to have a stellar first 100, running 18:25 for 10th place!). And that was really the only excitement for this lap. I couldn’t really see anyone else ahead of me, I was still running about the same effort, and was incredibly relaxed and calm. I think it was this lap (or maybe the third) that I saw Jessica, a teacher at my school who also runs and does Ironmans, at the far aid station. That was a nice surprise. As I came back in at the end of the lap, I noticed how much further along the three leaders, Morton, Dennis, and Serge, were, easily already a half hourish up on me. I said hi to Dave in about the same spot as I was coming in. I asked Johnny and Katie to move down to the bottom of the hill so I could tell them what I wanted coming in and grab it going back out. I think after this loop I had some candied ginger. My stomach wasn’t bothering me (and thankfully really didn’t all day) but I kept taking a couple pieces each lap as a preventative measure. Second lap took 1:40:12, and that wasn’t surprising because I had more pep now that it was daylight.
The third lap was my fastest somehow, but again, it was pretty even. I had no interest in trying to chase down the leaders. I was sticking to the plan and it was still very early (which makes me chuckle to write, I had already run a marathon, at essentially the same pace as my very first one four years ago, and it was EARLY). I DID realize a few miles in that I didn’t have enough gels to stick to my fueling plan, because I should have taken one when I came in. I didn’t really sweat it, just knew I needed to eat something more at the far aid station. I got in and out of that, forcing down some pretzels because it sounded like a good idea, and a banana (so I could tell Katie I was eating solid foods). I tried to stretch the gels and chews I had as far as they’d go on this lap and I relaxed on the hilly section. Despite that taking it easy, I came upon the guy in 4th place (I say 4th because unbeknownst to me, I had passed Dave at the aid station, he had been in the bathroom with stomach issues that unfortunately ended up torpedoing his race). At this point we were starting to encounter runners on their second laps too, but I recognized the guy in the green shorts as having been way ahead earlier. I was actually a little surprised because someone earlier had specifically mentioned that green shorts was fast and I also remembered right near the start hearing him talking with someone else that he was 2nd (?) at Uwharrie 40 this year. As I slowly went by up one of the early steep inclines I had a brief moment where I thought maybe I’ve actually been running a really stupid race all along because, really, do I have any business being this far up and passing people like that? It was a brief moment, because then I shut myself the hell up and continued on, at what felt almost like dawdling pace.
The rest of the loop was the same as the previous three. I noticed my legs felt eversoslightly heavier or tighter or something, but not alarmingly so. When I came down the hill I quickly told the Katie that I needed more of everything. Double it. I hit my watch at 1:39:29 and headed out again. I chugged a Boost shake here, on Katie’s orders. It was a good idea, the calories definitely helped. I set off loaded up with two gels and two bags of honey stinger chews. They informed me that the only three ahead of me were the three leaders. I was incredulous, but didn’t bother staying around arguing. Right around 4.5 miles in, I heard footsteps coming quickly. One of the guys I had been seeing fairly close behind every lap had caught up and he was looking really strong. I’d later learn his name was Jim and he was from Albany. He mentioned running together for a little, to break up the monotony. I welcomed it, but also worried that he looked A LOT better and stronger than me right then and I didn’t want to burn myself out keeping up. The next few miles to the aid station were pretty pleasant as the conversation was a welcome distraction. I mentioned that it was my first 100 and he had previously done Vermont and when he asked what time I was shooting for I honestly had no idea anymore how to answer. I was nearly 44 miles in and if I kept up the pace, we’d break the previous course record. I was honest and said I figured I’d like to hang on enough to break 15 at this point and he had similar designs. Only about 6 hours in, we had ourselves a long day ahead still.
We got into the aid station together. I started dipping a boiled potato in salt and eating it which seemed like a good idea. He stopped for the bathroom and I continued on, figuring he’d catch up pretty quickly (I was right). We ran together for a good bit of the back section hills before he gradually pulled ahead. I was right that he must have been feeling better than me at that point and it would have been stupid trying to chase him down not even halfway into the race. I came in at just about 1:45 for a 6:46 50 mile split, which is a HALF HOUR PR (unless one counts the 7:00 50ish mile split at the 12 hour, in which case it’s only a 14 minute PR). I was really happy that I had managed to perfectly execute Ray K’s advice to go out between 6:40-7:00 for the first 50. The second part of that advice was essentially to hold on for dear life and try not to blow up TOO much. I was definitely starting to get a little tired but not as badly as I imagined. Johnny also surprised me by jumping in to pace me here, which was definitely welcome.
Johnny was great to run with. I was quickly starting to not enjoy running. This probably had a lot to do with the rain stopping and the sun actually coming out. Things warmed up quickly and the humidity seemed to linger. My comfort level quickly dropped. He kept reminding me to drink, and made sure I was eating. I wasn’t very talkative but that was alright. He also reminded me to relax into the hills, and not get too excited yet. I started cramping some, particularly my calves and some weird tendon-y thing on the front of my ankle (where it connects to the top of my foot). When we came into the aid station I was wondering how far back I had fallen from Jim. But as we left, I ran into him (he had changed from a neon green to a black New Balance singlet) and we ran together a little bit before he again pulled away. I don’t recall anything much else extraordinary from this loop except I was starting to wish I could just call it a day after the loop and get credit for a 50 mile finish. Of course, neither Johnny nor Katie would allow that to happen. Neither would I but still, it’s nice to know your friends won’t let you back out of the stupid thing you started. We came in around 1:46 (~8:32 total), so even though I felt a good deal worse, I had managed not to slow considerably and Johnny deserves a lot of that credit.
Three laps to go. The mental math had started in earnest. If I ran 2:00 laps the rest of the way, I’d still have a 14:32 finish which would be pretty good, and if I slowed even more I could probably hold it together to break 15. Johnny went out with me on the 6th lap too. We had gained on Jim on the back half of the fifth lap, he seemed to be struggling with the heat some too. I noticed as we ran along Reedy Creek trail that we had gained a considerable distance on the guys I assumed were immediately behind me, standings-wise. I also noticed that I hadn’t seen Serge or John Dennis as I was coming in from the last lap, wondering if they had slowed some. Morton, however, was continuing to hammer it. As for my lap, there were a few moments where I had to walk and shake out a cramp. Johnny was good about not letting me take too much time, only a few seconds. It was now legit hot out and I was going through A LOT more fluids. Aside from the main aid station before mile 7, there were a few unmanned water stops set up every few miles and I was now stopping to take a cup or two of water there. And I refilled my bottle at least once, possibly twice. I also stopped to pee around mile 3, the third time I had done so during the race. I was happy that while my urine was yellow, it was not dangerously neon or anything. Another buoying thought: while I was definitely gassy, burping and farting quite a bit, my stomach was cooperating and there were no warning signs that I was in imminent bathroom emergency territory. And that was mainly the story of lap 6. At some point I went past Jim (maybe it was at the aid station?) and didn’t seem him for the rest of the lap. It was hot and miserable, possibly the least fun of the whole race. The whole time I knew even when I finished, I’d still have almost a marathon left. As we came to the end, Johnny mentioned that he was stopping after this one. Apparently he was feeling kind of off too. If HE’S feeling off after TWO laps, shit, what’s gonna happen to me?! was probably a thought I had around then. We finished the lap in 1:54ish, I was in about a minute before Jim but needed a little time at the aid station and then I came back down the hill and saw my cousins and their kids. A big old group there just for me. According to Katie, this was the only time I smiled all race. It’s kind of blurry, I just remember coming down the hill and stopping. My cousin Bryan asked me how I was feeling. I replied honestly, “I’ve felt better.” Just a tiny understatement. My 3 year old cousin Greg was holding the bag with the orange slices and I remember grabbing into the bag for some while muttering to myself, out loud, “Fuck, fucking fuck, fuck fuck fucking fuck—“ And then an “oh shit” when I realized what I was doing within earshot of my 3 and 6 year old cousins. Someone told me that the only two ahead of me were Morton and Serge, that Dennis had dropped after 5 laps for some reason. That put me in 3rd. On top of that, apparently Serge looked like he was starting to really struggle and I could maybe catch him. What. The. Fuck!? Was this real life? Was all this actually happening? And on that note, I chugged a 5 hour energy and was off again.
I remember immediately thinking to myself that I could now run 10 minute miles and still break 15. And also reminding myself that a 15:30 or so would not be anything to be embarrassed about. The first two miles, the airport spur, took about twenty minutes (including the stop for resupply). It was still hot and miserable and I was not happy. This was definitely the time where I thought to myself how I didn’t just never want to run another ultra again, I never wanted to RUN again, period. I just wanted to sit on my ass and do nothing. Jim had put some distance on me again and I was content to just hang on. I came down corkscrew hill and saw Josh and Shannon and maybe said something or maybe just grunted at them at that point. Right after the bridge after mile 4, I saw a group of people, a family, standing by where the trail forks and you could go right over to the lake instead of up the hill that the course goes. They were cheering and then, as I got closer, I recognized the tall blonde guy to be my friend Zane! He had said he was going to come cheer at some point and there he was, with his family in tow. And what’s awesomer, he jumped in and started running with me. PERFECT timing. He asked me how I was doing to which I responded flatly, ‘bad.’ Everything sucked. But we trudged up the incline and he talked and it helped take my mind off things for a bit. n
At the top of the incline the trail levels out and turns right onto Turkey Creek. There was an unmanned water station here, near the water fountains. As we were coming to it, I see a tall, shirtless runner in compression shorts. Christian. Again… what. The. Fuck. All I could manage was, “Christian?!” He looked at me a little downcast and mentioned that Serge was done. That he had never seen someone throw up quite that much. I looked up the trail a few more feet and there was Serge, looking much more miserable than I was feeling. My heart sunk. We were 80+ miles into the race and he was one of the runners I’ve looked up to, the guy who was a big reason why I was even running the race (with a goal of not letting him lap me) and I was about to go past him. It sucked, and I think I managed to say something that wasn’t totally stupid (or maybe it WAS totally stupid, but the intention was good) and Zane and I carried on. We came into the aid station and that’s where Zane said he was gonna turn around and run back to his family. I thanked him for getting me through that rough spell. Truth be told, I WAS feeling some better. As I started to leave the aid station, Jim’s girlfriend (who if I were giving out crew awards obviously Katie and Johnny would be #1, but she would have to be #2, or even 1b. She was a one woman operation and kept driving back and forth from the start/finish out to the second aid station where you have to hike in all day. That one’s a keeper fo sho. I digress) had a granola bar in her hand and looked at me and said, I should just give this to you to give to Jim. I saw him about a hundred meters up ahead and laughed and told her there was no guarantee I’d catch up to him. So we both ran up at him and I told her he’s in second place. She argued with me that he’s in 3rd but I knew I was right this time. She got him the granola bar and we headed onto the trail together. I told him that we were 2 and 3 now, that I had just passed Serge and he must have too without realizing it. This was officially crazytown in my head. Morton was going to win and break the course record, unless a snake got him or something (and even then I wouldn’t bet against him). Everyone else was basically in a race for second place. And by everyone else, I meant Jim and I because it appeared that everyone else had also succumbed to something or other that slowed them down.
Jim pulled ahead on the hills again and I stopped to refill my bottle and walk off another cramp. I was pleased in general that my feet still felt pretty ok. I knew the left little toe had the same blood blister that always occurs after a few hours running. My left ankle was also a little sore but nothing felt broken. I chuckled when I hit 85 miles right about 12 hours. Again. This time though, I HAD to keep running for another 15 miles. I reasoned that even 5 mph would bring me home in 15 hours now, and that thought was slightly mollifying. When I came out to Graylyn Rd, I realized I really had to pee. Rather than stop completely and risk really tightening up this time, I noted that no one else was around so I pulled down the front of my shorts and peed while walking forward. I was actually quite impressed with myself. At that point I also decided that if I had to take a crap, I would just crap my pants and worry about it later. It’s amazing how 12 hours of running and a bit of competitive fire can alter your idea of what is acceptable.
I finally finished up the lap in 1:56ish, right about 12:22 on the clock. I was thrilled to meet one of my primary goals – despite the fact that Morton was about to completely obliterate the course record by running a 13:11, he didn’t lap me! Looking at the results, it appears Jim and I were the only people who DIDN’T get lapped. Sicknasty. One of my only regrets from the race is not being able to tell Mike how bad ass he was and how inspiring it was to see him out there every loop, hauling ass. It was a good reminder that as bad as I felt running as hard as I was, someone was out there running faster and probably didn’t feel all that fantastic either. Digression over, I knew this last lap was make or break. Katie argued with me to take a headlamp. I told her no and stormed off. Jim had left about three minutes before me and really what choice did I have but to try to chase him down for 2nd? Unfortunately the first two miles of the lap were slow again. It was a struggle, a crampy struggle. I just made myself continue moving forward, as slow as necessary, but constantly moving forward. Right after the second mile, things started improving some. I kept muttering to myself, “empty the goddamn tank” and it seemed to be a good reminder.
I kept passing people on earlier laps and some of them would cheer and ask me if this was my last. I honestly didn’t have the energy to formulate recognizable words so I would just give thumbs up and grunt. I sincerely hoped my grunting didn’t come off as rude or anything, I just couldn’t think of words, and if I could, I wasn’t able to get them out. ‘URRNNGHHH’ was about the best I could do. I started making deals with myself, the evil sort I am known to make on training runs – just run to the first water station and you can powerwalk for a minute. Nope, haha, you have to keep running! Just run to the top of the mile 5 hill and then you can back off a moment. HAHA NO! YOU CAN’T! Any sort of downhill or flat I consciously tried to pick up the pace. I couldn’t see Jim up ahead and the thought that I could back off and still comfortably come in 3rd and under 15 started tracking across my mind but I had promised to keep the pedal down and that’s what I did. I was in and out of the far aid station in maybe 30 seconds, faster than the previous two laps. I hit the back hills as hard as I could, running every step this time, imagining all the miles and miles I ran over this very loop the past few months, all that work was for this day, this moment, there was no make-up race. I went right by the water station this time, my bottle nearing empty but adrenaline had me thinking I was fine to make it to the finish at this point. I grabbed the headlamp I had left there on the first lap. 3.5 miles to go. Out onto Graylyn. I ran that downhill as hard as I could, it felt like an all-out sprint, I was redlining. 2.5 miles to go. I hit the uphill hard too. I knew I just had this and cemetery hill and that short one to the finish left. I turned at the top. Maybe 2 miles to go less. 1.5. Cemetery hill. My mind was almost blank. I had run this very loop dozens and dozens of times and occasionally, the times when I was running it late in the evening, I’d imagine it was the last lap of the race and how that would feel. And here I was, ACTUALLY DOING IT! I crested cemetery hill and knew I HAD to put everything I had left into the final mile. I KNEW I wasn’t just going to break 15 hours, I was going to SMASH it. I was going to break 14:30! All the times I tried to imagine what it would be like had failed so miserably it turns out. My mind was just thinking push push PUSHPUSHPUSHGODDAMMITGOPUSHNOWGOOOOOOOOO! I was thinking about Johnny and Katie and how they had been out there all day long and how they’d probably be very happy to see me. I figured I was probably going to come up just short of Jim because if he had ANYTHING left, he was likely doing the same thing I was right now. And I was ok with that. And then I came up on Dave. He was coming in at the end of his sixth loop. He hadn’t been having a fun day but I guess seeing me pepped him up some and he started running with me. It was awesome to have someone to push me that last stretch. We were probably running close to 7:00 miles. It felt like I was flying. Finally, the turn off the trail onto the park road. Then into camp. Now it was just a steep downhill and get up the hill to the finish. People were clapping and cheering. I could SEE the red neon of the finish banner through the trees. Bottom of the hill. I yelled Johnny’s name because it was dark and I wanted them to know I was the one coming in now. I bounded up those steps. I don’t actually remember feeling them at all. I got to the top, only a step or two more. I remember throwing my water bottle down in some surge of emotion. I ran through the finish. 14 hours, 16 minutes, 25 seconds later, I was done. I had finished my first 100 miler. I was 3rd place.
The immediate moments post-race are kind of a surreal dream sequence to me. I know I gave Johnny a big bear hug. And Katie. And Katie got my finisher’s buckle for me. I know I wandered over to the aid station and people were asking me what I needed. I think I grabbed a Gatorade. Someone asked what lap I was on. Katie interjected, HE’S DONE! It felt so good to hear that. Holy shit. Then it hit me. I had done it. I had taken my expectations, which were by most accounts on the ambitious side for someone running his first 100 miler, and I had obliterated them. I ambled toward the cabin and then I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably for a few moments. Johnny took a picture of me around this time that I think perfectly captures the moment, hopefully I can get it up here soon. I thanked the two of them profusely Without them, there’s no way I would have accomplished what I did.
Going into this race, I kept mentioning that I was more excited to see my friends and be around the race atmosphere. Of course once I got out on the course, I also wanted to do well. Sometimes you put in the hard work and sacrifice and suffer and still something happens and you have a bad race. And other times, everything, EVERYTHING comes together and you run one of the best races of your life. I was very fortunate that at Umstead, for my first 100 mile race, the latter happened. This recap is entirely too long as it is, so I will cut it here, at the end of my race; a logical place as any for stopping. I have a bunch more thoughts on everything, and pictures, and random musings as I am want to ramble about. I’ll get to all that later, separately. I’m still sort of decompressing and recovering and getting my mind around things.
Til next time… RUN HAPPY everyone!
Last time I wrote, I had just the one run in the books for last week (albeit a solid one). I ended up with a decent week.
Thu - 5 miles, 42:30 around my cousins’ neighborhood, super buggy, kind of muggy
Fri - 9 miles, let’s say 69 minutes on the greenway to Umstead and back, legs felt so good I had to really reign it in, even did five 30s strides in the last mile
Sat - am: 3 miles slow with a co-worker at the Great Human Race in Durham//pm: 13 miles, 1:48, up the greenway to Umstead, got caught in a thunderstorm
Sun - 15 miles, 2:02 at Umstead from Old Reedy Creek, same run as Wednesday but slower course loop (1:41ish), legs felt really freaking good, threw in a pick-up or two when I felt like it
Total for week – 60 miles, about 8 hours
The week before I ran Stone Cat, I ran 64 miles. Of course, back then 64 miles was not nearly as drastic a taper as it is now. And I just looked back through my log at the actual runs I did. I had a pretty crappy race at Stone Cat and I know there are a lot of factors that go into the success or failure on any given day but maybe I could learn something from the end game last year. For one thing I was running hard a lot. I remember thinking that I was supposed to taper off volume, not intensity. But I think I ratcheted UP the intensity instead, which may have been why I was so shot after only 25 miles in the race. Who knows. All I know is that this time, I barely feel like I ran at all last week.
I saw John again Friday night. I also took my brother who has been suffering from IT band issues. Saturday when I went running my legs felt as close to 100% as they’ve felt in a long time. Yesterday was even better. This week is all about not doing anything stupid, which should seem obvious but I know me well enough to know this is going to take a lot of mental focus. I will not be doing a whole lot of running, obviously. Just enough to keep my legs remembering what running is and so that I don’t start on Saturday and need an hour or two to shake off the rust. Like I mentioned before, I’m not nearly as anxious or nervous about it, I’m also not as keyed up. I was actually chastised yesterday on the phone with my mom for not sounding more excited and enthusiastic about it all. I’m more excited for the people coming here, really. By the time Saturday morning rolls around, I know my legs will be fresh and ready and I will run as hard as I can for 100 miles and whatever that ends up being, fantastic.
Now a rant! Friday as I was running along the airport spur at Umstead, a woman on a mountain bike passed me, then turned around and asked, “have you ever done a Tough Mudder?” At first I didn’t respond because it was so out of the blue but a quick look around revealed I was the only other human anywhere in sight. So I said no. But she wasn’t done! She replied, matter of factly, “Don’t worry, there’s one up here in October.” Then she rode off and that was the end of it. What. The. Fuck? Ummmm, thanks? Clearly, I was really concerned that I had missed my chance. I spent the next mile or so pondering whether maybe I look like the type of guy who would do a mud run. That seemed to be the theme of the weekend too. My cousin and his neighbor were doing one in Charlotte Saturday morning. And then an old friend I hadn’t seen in a few years stopped on her way from NY to SC and hung out Saturday night. We went to Bella Mia, because it’s my favorite restaurant down here and that’s where I like to take all my visitors. It came up that I was running the 100 miler in a week. My friend is an OT and so she immediately asked how my joints are holding up, and telling me horror stories about the runners she’s seen. It’s a similar conversation I’ve had with people I haven’t seen in a while or who I just met when they find out what I like to do. The whole HOW do you do that, what do you think about, do you listen to music, you’re probably going to get injured. When we picked up my brother’s friend, who is about to become a PT, the questions about the prospects of me eventually getting injured continued.
Relating back to mud runs, my friend also asked me if I had ever done a Tough Mudder. She went on to say that if running is not enough of a challenge anymore, “and it seems like it’s getting to that point,” I should try that. And it was there that I really grasped the disconnect. People seem to assume that I’ve gravitated to ultras and run so much because I want the biggest challenge. While it’s certainly accurate to say I like to push my limits and challenge myself, I am by no means bored with running. I am a runner. I am not really much of an athlete (I recently went 0 for 5 in a students vs staff basketball game at my school). I am not a Navy SEAL and don’t aspire to be. I no longer care how much I can bench press or how big my biceps are. While many people find the idea of running for nearly an entire day in the woods akin to torture, I actually LOOK FORWARD to the prospect. I am a runner. I like to RUN, not crawl under barbed wire or leap through fire or any of that stuff. I don’t begrudge or judge anyone THEIR enjoyment of it, but to me it holds zero appeal. My friend mentioned that she had a friend who did something called the World’s Toughest Mudder which was apparently some sort of 24 hour death march in NJ in the winter where people lost toes and were hospitalized and almost no one finished. If I wanted to suffer like that, I’d find a way to enter the Barkley Marathons (which one day I think I’d like to, actually). I think part of my problem is the commercialization of those sorts of races (Tough Mudders, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, etc etc). They seem to be about cramming the maximum number of people into a space, with waves that go all day. And clusterfucks for parking. Money money money, kind of like how I feel about Rock n Roll races. I gravitate to ultras and trail races and low key local races like the BRRC puts on because the atmosphere jives with my temperament. And it’s not contrived, the trails are what they are, and usually they’re plenty tough on their own. So dear everyone, please stop asking about this. I don’t care about mud runs. I did a mud run already. It was called the Umstead Trail marathon.
Of course the other question was my opinion on Vibrams and other barefoot running things. I really should just print copies of the Hanson’s take on this I read a few years ago, it would save me some time. I’ve started just telling people I can’t wear them because I have webbed toes, but I might start making up more elaborate lies (the webbed toes thing is true though). I don’t mind talking about this subject as much as the previous one though, because I HAVE experience on both ends of the extreme and it’s at least a relevant running related discussion. As I’m writing, I realize I was pretty grouchy and got progressively grouchier as the weekend wore on. By the time we got home from the bowling alley at like 2 am Sunday morning, I was ready for everyone to leave and give me some time to be alone and not have to wear clothes in the apartment and not have to go out til much later than I want to and not have to be conversational and all that. I was probably mostly just tired.
And that’s probably enough for now. I’m gonna have a lot of time this week to think and that’s always a little dangerous. Thursday night cannot come soon enough.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
Not really a recap (or, some words that talk about running-type things in a sorta-chronological manner)
It’s been a little while. I didn’t recap the last week or so because there wasn’t much to recap; at least relative to the previous month or two. I suppose this is what should be referred to as a taper. Not that I’ve ever tapered for a 100 mile race. I don’t think I did that good a job tapering for the 50 last year and that was my last ‘A’ race (and one of my shittier performances from the whole year) and I still don’t really know what I’m doing. I know how to do work and grind week after week but when it comes to the end game, I’m pretty clueless. Luckily there are some (a lot) of people smarter than me and I’ve tried to glean some wisdom from them, but I’ve probably unintentionally ignored quite a bit of good advice in the process. In continuing the theme of putting more importance on enjoying myself (because running is one of the only things I can actually FIND enjoyment in lately) I went ahead and ran for 12 hours just three weeks before the Umstead. Was it too much? Probably. I wasn’t exactly running hard, and I spent about an hour of that time span in the bathroom (at least it felt like about an hour). It wouldn’t have been too bad (TOO bad) were it not for the twenty-some hours of driving that went along with it in the two and a half day span that included the 12 hours of running. Covering 84.5 miles was a good confidence boost that I’ll be able to at least finish 100 miles but my legs felt like garbage last week.
Fortunately John worked me over last Friday and I all the aches and troubling pains subsided enough that I had two decent runs last weekend. First was 22 miles at Umstead included 2xTurkey Creek loop. The next was the Tobacco Road half, sort of. You won’t find me in the results. But I just happened to also be running 13.1 miles starting and finishing at the USA Baseball complex and spending a couple miles on the ATT. I had a bib on too. Go figure. My legs were pretty shot from the longish Umstead run about 12 hours earlier, and I went out hard intending to crash and burn. I got my wish; I felt like crap from miles 8-12. For some reason the last mile went better again, weird. Still, running a 1:25 like that made for a good workout. 51 miles for the week, lots of extra free time.
This week has been junk too. I spent Monday on the recliner watching the entire first season of The Walking Dead and it was awesome. Tuesday managed to top it somehow (well not somehow, in this case awesome company, good beer, ticken chacos, and bar trivia top getting drunk at home watching great television and eating a burrito). Wednesday I got back to it, running an Umstead course loop, possibly the last time I do that in full before the race. I was a little pressed for time because I had to pick Scott up from the airport, operating on less than 3 hours sleep, and probably dehydrated. Still, the plan was to jog easy to the airport turnaround, run a full course loop hardish, and jog easy back to the car. Result? A single loop PR (1:27ish). Not sure how I ran faster than that for a full marathon though, except that I probably ran Manz miles here still.
This weekend, Scott’s still in town and now there are only eight days til race day. Running will be limited, and I think it should be and I’ll have enough distractions to ensure I don’t do something dumb like run hills for four hours Sunday morning. I’m pretty excited about next weekend, but in a way that hasn’t put a whole lot of stress on me unlike last November before Stone Cat. Back then, I had made it a very singular goal that would basically decide whether the entire year was a success or a failure (in my mind at least). Right now, I care, and of course I want to do well, but ultimately I’m just looking forward to seeing some really good friends and some really fast people who I’ve admired a while. It’s March and I have a long year still ahead of me so whatever happens next Saturday, it won’t swing the needle a whole lot in either direction. It’s not apathy, it’s perspective. Or something. At least I AM sure that I still have no idea what I’m doing, and I’m kinda starting to like it that way.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
So it’s the middle of a new week and at this point seems kinda pointless to write a weekly recap, except for the sake of regularity. I obviously already wrote waaaaaay too much about Saturday’s race so I can gloss over that and I think I’ll just throw in a bonus recap of how this week has gone so far (spoiler alert: pretty ok)
Mon - am: 4 miles, 37:15, Duke XC//pm: sleep from 5:30p – 6:15a Tuesday morning, A NEW PR!
Tue – am: nothing//pm: 29 miles, 4:06, BCG to Umstead w/2 x Turkey Creek loop and 7 x super steep hill on greenway on way back
Wed - am: 4 miles, 38 min, Duke XC, drizzle//pm: 21 miles, 3 hours, Duke XC, five 4+ mi loops w/extensions, water after each
Thu - am: 3 miles, 29:30 Duke XC//pm: 14 miles total incl. 5 x mile (5:55, 5:50, 5:48, 5:43, 5:38), 400 slow jog after each, 800 recovery after set then 4×200 (35, 36, 34, 34), 200 jog
Fri – am: 5 miles, 43 minutes, Duke XC//pm: random stationary recumbent biking and foam rolling
Sat - am: 34 miles total incl Umstead Marathon (3:00:36), 2.5 up, 5.5 after, slowish
Sun - am: 16 miles, 2:45, Umstead; first 6ish w/Alicia Parr (who was the Umstead women’s champion!) on Loblolly trail, last 10 miles solo on Company Mill and bridle trails//pm: random splashing around in pool
Total for week – 130 miles again, about 17.5 hours
Mon - am: 3 miles, 29 minutes, Duke XC, legs feeling better//pm: 15 miles, 2:08, Duke XC, three 4+ mi loops and one 3 mile loop
Tue – am: 4 miles, 38 minutes, Duke XC, legs normal again//pm: 15 miles, 2:17, Umstead, did a course loop+ with Kara B who was thinking about pacing a friend at the 100 and wanted to experience the course first, legs felt great
Wed – am: 8 miles, 68 minutes, Duke XC, 2 loops, beautiful morning, legs feel fantastic
So far — 45 miles, 175 miles and about 24 hours of running since last recap.
Tonight I’m gonna get back to the gym and do my weekly squats which I’ve missed the past two weeks (sorry Katie!) and then go to the Fullsteam Run (which I’ve also missed for the past month or so) wherein I’ll try to find some guys who are feeling spry (there always seems to be a couple people at the Fullsteam run who are looking to push the pace) and do another half-assed workout, something in the neighborhood of 25-26 minutes for 4 miles with a few before and after.
I’m really pleased that my legs feel completely recovered from Saturday’s effort already. That’s the cool thing about running “shorter” races (and I say that fully aware that most people don’t consider a marathon short by any stretch) — the recovery is pretty short. I was trying to explain it to Kara last night, the different feeling after that sort of effort vs. the 44 miler I ran two weeks ago. The Sunday run after the marathon felt heavy, like I had done max effort squats the day before. The day or so after the longer efforts, it’s not so much heavy as just tired, like I’d done a bajillion air squats instead. The key to recovering from either, I think, is sitting on my ass most of the rest of the day on Sunday watching sports and eating whatever. I finally talked to my parents about the race and we laughed because now when my mom hears I ran a marathon, she thinks, “So? You do that every week.” Which is essentially true.
I’ve got a little more than three weeks to go before the 100 miler. This is my last higher volume week, after this I’ll start to taper off. Kara was asking me some questions about training on our run last night and the main recurrent theme is that I really have almost no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never done anything like this before, I don’t have a coach to bounce ideas off of (and can’t exactly afford one), Jess just tells me I’m crazy now, I just go out and run, kind of a lot. There is the minimum of structure but really I’m just doing whatever. But more importantly than knowing what I’m doing… I’m having FUN doing it. A lot of fun. I can’t remember the last time I looked forward to going out for a run almost every single day like I do now. A lot of that probably has to do with the weather, and the places I’m running, but still, it’s a new feeling for me and the results are hard to argue with right now. If it ain’t broke, right?
Til next time… RUN HAPPY everyone!
Saturday morning I did something I haven’t done in almost three years. I ran an official marathon, the Umstead Trail Marathon. Since doing the National Marathon back in March of 2009, I’ve run the marathon distance or more plenty of times, most of those times coming in the past year or so, but have not actually run in an actual marathon race. I actually hadn’t planned on running THIS race either, but earlier this year the opportunity presented itself, as Bull City Running had some entries available. I figured that I would likely be doing a long run at Umstead anyway, so why not have some fun and make part of it a race.
Fast forward to this week. After the 10 miler last Sunday and the ensuing drive back to NC, I started the week off exhausted, which is why I slept for 13 hours from Monday evening to Tuesday morning. I spent the week acting like I wasn’t racing by doing back-to-back long runs Tuesday and Wednesday (29 at Umstead Tuesday, 21 on the Duke XC trail Wednesday) and followed that up with a track workout Thursday night. My “taper” consisted of running 5 easy miles Friday morning. The forecast for Saturday was somewhere between biblical rain and The End of the World. I woke up around 4am Saturday to the sounds of the promised rains. Rolling over, I briefly considered canceling my alarm for 6:45 and just sleeping in. But, I seem to have developed an affinity for suffering and misery so at a quarter to seven I was swinging my legs out of bed and going about the process of getting ready. This was actually the first race I’d be doing IN the Triangle area since moving here, and it was real nice not to have to either 1- travel hours the night before to someplace or 2- wake up REALLY early to drive an hour or so to the race site. This was basically in my backyard. Cereal, bathroom, dressed, supplies, bathroom, out the door around 8ish. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the rain seemed to have mostly abated and while still overcast and threatening looking, it seemed like a pretty nice morning for running.
I drove to my usual spot on Old Reedy Creek Rd, put on my Pure Grits, grabbed the handheld full of Perpetuem, and started to jog up to the start. It’s about 2.5 miles from the car to Camp Lapihio where the race start/finish was (and also where the 100 will start/finish, conveniently enough). I got there around 8:45 and immediately saw John Stiner. It was nice seeing a familiar face and we chatted before I realized I needed to go into the lodge and check in. As I was waiting the few minutes before the start, John asked me what my race plan was. I hadn’t really thought of anything specific, my two big goals were to not get injured (VERY big goal, especially with the early miles on wet, muddy singletrack and how much of a clutz I usually am) and to get a good long run in, everything else in my mind would be a bonus. I told John I was going to go pretty hard until I blew up and then suffer to the end. Most of my long runs at Umstead have been pretty comfortable and I feel relatively fine at the end, I wanted to suffer some today, because I’m sure I will at some point over the course of 100 miles.
I had to check in at the timing tent and then I ambled over to the right side of the starting line. As is often the case at races, it seemed to me like there were dozens of people who looked super fast and I figured if I ran about what I figured I would (3:15-3:20), I’d be happy with top 5-10 or so. Considering the week I’d had, I didn’t expect to be particularly competitive, or have my legs be able to hold on for 3+ hours at a hard effort. I said hi to Alicia and Alisha and then lined up about a row behind the front. There was a countdown and then we were off.
The start went up the road into camp, slightly uphill before turning onto the bridle trail for an abbreviated out and back on the airport overlook spur. Right away some guy in a yellow Fleet Feet singlet blasted out to the lead, well ahead of everyone else. Somehow I found myself in 2nd a few steps behind a group of guys. I could hear them chatting and I thought briefly that I should hang back. But then I remembered my goal — run hard — and just went with it. As we turned toward the bridle trail, one of the volunteers cheered out that she hopes we look as happy on the way back in (at the end of the race) as we do now. As we ran the airport spur out & back, it was hard to remember I was in a race. It was Saturday morning, I was running the bridle trail at Umstead, welcome to every. single. weekend. So I was saying hi and good morning to people as I passed them and instead of just saying hi back, or ignoring me which is much more typical, they were cheering and saying good job. It was a bit weird at first. At the turnaround right by mile one the leader already had a sizable lead and I was a few seconds alone in second. As I ran back up toward Company Mill, I began to pass the rest of the field. It’s kinda neat being up in the front of a race on an out & back because everyone starts cheering. Often I feel pretty bad because usually I’m too tired or focused to saying anything back but it was early so I was able to cheer for everyone else too.
Another mile or so and I was turning onto the Company Mill trail, the first stretch of single track. I couldn’t even see the leader anymore by the time I reached it. Instead of my usual caution and slow approach to running the hiking-only trails, especially the downhills, I let loose a little.The trail was a mess from the rain. It was very muddy and slippery in spots, especially the bridges (FORESHADOWING!) and I had to occasionally reign it in to avoid turning slips into outright spills. As I came off of Company Mill back on the bridle, the first aid station was there. I think this was the first time someone cheered for me by name. I didn’t see who it was but that was a lot cooler than “Go 221!” or “Good job runner!” There was a considerable downhill to the bridge on Graylyn and I again just ran hard. Especially on the bridle trails, all downhills basically meant sprint. At the bottom the course turned back onto single track, this time the Sycamore trail. This is the only stretch of the race I haven’t run on yet. It was basically the same as the rest of the single track I’ve run here, some roots, some rocks, rolling up and down, and it was very wet and muddy.
Coming off the trail and turning to go down a hill to the next aid station, I was about 5 miles into the race and at that point had no idea what time I was at (I wrapped my Garmin in seran wrap to keep it dry. I didn’t really care about pace or whatever, I just wanted it to keep track of time, mostly for the running I’d do AFTER the race, and I left my regular Timex which CAN handle rain at school over the weekend). Because it wasn’t really raining, I peeled off some of the wrap so I could see the face. I was apparently running right around 7:00s or just a bit slower apparently. I saw the leader motoring up the hill as I was coming down. At this point, I figured he already had about a 2-3 minute lead! I grabbed some water and took off up the hill. There was a line of runners coming into the aid station as I was leaving, probably only 20-30 seconds back. That was a bit depressing, to have been running relatively hard and everyone else was still right there. On the next stretch of the Sycamore trail, I was just hoping the shirtless guy who had been right behind me would hurry up and pass me already so I didn’t have to wonder when it would happen. I hit 7 miles in about 49:30 and a few moments later, I came to a bridge with some steps. I apparently took the first step too fast because my foot slid forward and I slammed my left shin into the step above. There was loud expletives being yelled for a few seconds. I hobbled off the bridge, checked my shin, decided it probably wasn’t broken, started jogging, stopped and checked it again, cursed at myself for being a careless dumbass, and then kept going.
By the time I was back on Graylyn I was saying to myself that I didn’t want to see anymore goddamn single track (and fortunately for me, I wouldn’t the rest of the race). I was now heading up the same hill I had run down a few miles earlier, my shin was a non-issue. This time at the aid station at the top, I grabbed a water and a honey stinger Ginsting gel. It tasted pretty good and I figured Honey Stinger products have been pretty good to my stomach. To that point I had just been sipping my Perpetuem every so often, and I had a package of honey stinger chews in my pocket for later. This portion of the race course, the Reedy Creek to Turkey Creek bridle trail, is the part of the park I am definitely most familiar with, having run it dozens of times over the past few weeks. The course ran down what is apparently called Corkscrew Hill, which makes sense as it winds around. Again, I was running hard down the hill. I was 9 miles in and I think the watch said something around 64 minutes, which seemed about right. I hit the bridge at the bottom and the long, gradual uphill began. Sort of like last weekend at Club Challenge, this hill didn’t feel particularly bad. In running the 100 course so much, I’ve come to actually enjoy this section, the uphill is never THAT steep, so I can just grind and not slow down all that much. I got to the top which is apparently the Trenton Rd aid station and everyone was cheering and again calling me by name. I did what I had started doing at pretty much every aid station (and would do at pretty much every aid station til the end), stopped to grab a cup (or two) of water and an orange slice. Tasty. I turned and started running the gently rolling Turkey Hill section.
Because this stretch is such a long out & back, on the left side of the trail I could see mile markers all the way up to mile 21. It helped break things up, first I’d come to the mile marker I was actually at, then some time later I’d see one in the opposite direction, always narrowing the gap. For the next 2ish miles from the aid station, down to the two paved bridges, I was just cruising. Around mile 11 I noticed I was right about 84 minutes which meant right on 7:00 pace. I knew that meant if I somehow held that, I’d run about 3:03, much better than I anticipated. I also figured I’d blow up at some point, probably on the next section. The next section is, on the Umstead 100 website, known as the sawtooth 79 because it’s about 2-2.5 miles of fairly steep ups and downs. I was going to treat it just like the rest of the race so far, plod along up the hills as hard as I could and bomb the downhills harder while catching my breath. Somehow, today the hills didn’t seem as bad as they normally do. I definitely slowed some on the ups but I think I made up for it on the downs. And while my legs were definitely a bit tired, they didn’t seem to be getting worse and cardiovascularly I was completely fine. There was an aid station around mile 13 and it was here that people started telling me how far back I was. I wanted to tell them I didn’t care at all, because I had no inclination on going any faster to try and catch someone so far ahead. Although I WAS surprised to learn I was only 4-5 minutes back, I figured the gap would have widened considerably more.
I hit the mile 13 marker right at 1:31. I was just about halfway but for some reason, mentally, I felt even closer to the finish then that. Back onto Graylyn and back down the hill toward the same aid station I was at about 9 miles ago. As I was turning to go down, the leader was heading back up Graylyn, so year, I figured about 4-5 minutes was accurate. I still didn’t care. I stopped again to grab another honey stinger gel and some water and an orange and was off. Before I got back to Graylyn I saw the same line of guys in roughly the same order coming back down. Again I was a little demoralized that while I was slightly further ahead this time, it was only by about 80 seconds. I didn’t take into account that I was feeling the same, if not better, than I had the last time I saw them. Actually, definitely better. In fact, as I turned back onto Turkey Creek trail, I was feeling better than I had at any point yet. And I was going slightly faster. The long back portion allowed me to see most of the field which was really cool. I was a little less vocal but tried to give some thumbs up and smile. It took me a little over 20 minutes to go from 13 to 16, which surprised me quite a bit. As I went hard down the last sharp downhill and came back to the narrow stretch, I realized I was almost back to the bridges and a lot further along than I realized. Cool.
It was a very gradual, mostly uphill stretch back to the Trenton Rd aid station. The whole time I was thinking mostly about the guys right behind me and figuring if they were running as well as they looked and I was running as slow as I felt, it was a matter of minutes before I got caught. I kept the hammer down and as I came back to the aid station, I could hear a trumpet playing Gonna Fly Now from Rocky. At mile 9ish of the Broad Street run I found the actual song exceedingly annoying. But I was feeling like crap and worried about not meeting my goal at that point. Here, I was in a great mood, I was feeling good, I felt very close to the finish even though I had another 7ish miles to go, and I noticed it was a young boy doing the playing. Kind of reminded me of a young Scott, so after grabbing another orange and a water I gave him a thumbs up and a wink as I departed. The next mile or so were downhill, and (SURPRISE SURPRISE) I was running hard. I kept waiting for the inevitable blow up and the longer I ran, the less likely said blow up seemed. I caught a quick split of about 6:30 on this downhill. I noticed I was at 2:18 at mile 20, so I had actually sped up in general somehow. I started to think that if I managed NOT to blow up, maybe I could hold off the rest (as I figured no one else would be going much faster than 6:40-6:50s at this point) and hang on to second place. I got back to the bridge that signified the start of Corkscrew Hill and there was a guy who mentioned I was about 8-9 minutes behind the leader now. This seemed far more likely to me and helped me relax; I WAS running for 2nd place, now I probably wouldn’t even be reminded about the leader anymore.
As the hill leveled out toward the top I could see the aid station and someone was standing with an orange slice, as if they read my mind. I grabbed it and a quick water and was off on the Cedar Ridge out & back. This being a fairly brief out & back, I figured I would see the leader coming toward me any second. It was mostly downhill on the way out and I felt like I was absolutely flying. There were moments on some steeper spots where I was actually going, ‘WHEEEEEEEE” out loud and throwing my arms up like I was on a roller coaster. I can’t remember ever being that happy at either of the other two marathons I’ve done, especially not so late into it. But then I didn’t see him right away. Where the hell was the leader?. I briefly worried I had gone the wrong way until I came to the mile 22 sign. But still no leader. And then, finally I saw him. And for the first time all race he did not look too strong, or like a running robot. He actually looked human, and unhappy. The biker who was escorting him looked up and let out an audible gasp off surprise when he saw me. That made me laugh as I ran by. Only maybe a minute later I came to the turnaround. Already? Cool. I went around the cone and began the climb back up, glancing at my watch. One minute went by, still no one coming toward me. Two minutes. Three minutes. Four minutes. What is going on? Where the hell is everyone? Finally about four and a half minutes after starting my way back I saw 3rd place. And he said something to the effect that the leader was just up ahead and looking bad and to go get him. That was NOT what I wanted to hear really. I could just picture it in my head, catching up to this guy and then having him start feeling better and making me actually race all the way to the finish and still losing. Not exactly what I wanted to do today. I had spent almost three hours accepting the fact that I was going to run pretty well and finish in 2nd, so this was throwing me off. A few guys later, I see Ronnie Weed coming at me telling me the same thing and that I’m gonna catch him on Cemetary Hill. I realize that no one else knew that I wasn’t TRYING to catch this guy and I was not about to try to go harder now because I was closer. I was in the middle of re-lowering expectations in my mind when I came to the powerline cut again and sure enough, there was the leader in the yellow singlet, walking next to the bike and not looking to hot. Balls. I guess I AM going to catch him. As I went by him, I asked if he was ok and patted him on the back. I didn’t know what to do, I’ve definitely felt like crap in a race before (see: Triple Lakes 40 miler last year) and if someone had caught me late in that race (like I was expecting), I’d probably want something similar. I hope I didn’t come off as condescending.
Anyway, now I had this surreal moment where everything hit me. With about three miles to go, I had just blown right passed the machine who had been leading the race and now I was in first and the closest person behind either of us was at least eight or so minutes back. It was very likely I’d win. WHAT?! SERIOUSLY?! SHUT UP! KEEP RUNNING! That’s something like what happened in rapid succession in my head at that moment. I think some people at the aid station were a little surprrised when they saw me, now with a fancy-pants bike escort coming out of Cedar Ridge first. I didn’t take anything at the aid station but I did thank them (at least I hope I did, in my head I did) and kept rolling. I’ve run the stretch from the Graylyn trail junction to Camp Lapihio dozens of times, this is part of my long run loop, there was not much more left to go at all. I kept the throttle down, this was the only stretch of the race, from here to the finish, that I was absolutely all out on. I also realized that I would very probably come close but not quite break 3 hours. I was ok with that. The guy on the bike asked me if I wanted anything, water, gel, etc. I said no thanks. People on the trail I passed were cheering, which now just felt cool. I wondered how surprised John would be to see me coming through first. I hit Cemetary Hill (which until last week I didn’t realize had a name) and made myself treat it like the end off a long run, which meant push hard. I actually caught up to the biker before the top, at which point he mentioned no one had done that before. I think he was just being nice. At the top I knew the rest was mostly downhill. The turnoff finally came into view, I made the right and headed for the finish stretch. As I went back onto the camp road I remembered what the volunteer had said at the beginning of the race and I made it a point to smile and thank the volunteers here. I wasn’t feeling as good as I had at the beginning, I was feeling BETTER. As I barreled down the final downhill stretch, I could see mile 26 and a volunteer was talking into a walkie talkie, probably mentioning my imminent arrival. The road rounded and the finish came into view and I could hear people clapping and cheering and all I can remember is feeling really pleased and smiling. I crossed the line first in 3:00:36 and got my pint glass (seriously, I love getting beer-related race things) and my bat plaque that said “1st Place Male”. Baller.
John found me and we talked for a little bit. People were asking me how I felt. The honest answer, pretty good. I just ran a 9 minute PR on a fairly hilly course and won the race and I didn’t hurt myself, so yeah, I’m feeling pretty damn good. We waited around for the next runner to come in. The guy in the yellow singlet must have rallied as he came in about ten minutes later for second. Apparently he had started cramping, ugh, been there, sucks. I grabbed some food and then headed out for a few more miles. I decided not to run quite as much as previously planned, the effort made up for the lower volume in my mind. And I wanted to get back and eat a free Moe’s burrito and have John work on me a little bit and see everyone else finish. I’m happy I got to see Alicia turn for home as first female (WOOT! REPEAT CHAMPION!),making it a very good day for the Bull City Track Club. I know I had to run the race myself, but without people like John (who keeps my legs from falling off), or Kim and Jason and the folks at Bull City Running (who run the greatest running store in the world, by far), or the countless volunteers who were always so friendly and helpful, I doubt I would’ve run nearly as well. It was so cool hanging out after the race, seeing everyone else come in, talking with a bunch of other runners, like Alicia and Alisha, Josh, and Shannon (who is also running the Umstead 100) and is practically my neighbor. They wanted to know about my plans for running the 100 (which I still have only the bare minimum of an idea about, aside from ‘I’m going to run it and hopefully finish before April 1st’). After everyone had finished, I helped John pack up his car and walked the 2.5 miles back to mine. I stopped to sit on the bench that overlooks Lake Crabtree for a few minutes, just relaxing and taking in what turned out to be a nice afternoon. I decided that it had totally been worth it getting out of bed this morning.
This post is long enough, as usual, so I’ll add a separate for some of the really cool pictures I found from the race. Also this will give me a chance to check facebook and give proper credit where it’s due.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
I’ve never been a fan of February really. I don’t particularly like winter and by the time February rolls around most years, the lack of sunlight and cold and all that have usually been compounded enough to make me pretty miserable. February has also not been a particularly good month for training. Just by it’s nature it’s set up to be a down month, as most years you only get four full weeks and nothing extra. I had decent January this year, just a bit over 300 miles, an ok performance at the 100k in the middle of the month, sort of a return to consistency. But in general, it was a little disappointing to me to start the year off like I did. With a 100 mile race and some other big goals on the horizon, I felt a little behind where I thought I needed to be. I knew February needed to be better but I had NO idea what I was in store for.
By any of the metrics I’ve been using to keep track of my training since I actually started considering myself a runner a few years ago, February was by far the best month I’ve ever had. For starters, there’s the numbers (which make me double check at first glance, but my legs remember every. single. step.): 546 miles (~18.8 miles/day or slightly less than 132/week), probably over 76 hours. I also ran that 10 mile race that I’m quite pleased with. I’ve never done anything quite like that. And the awesome thing is that my legs feel pretty good, not destroyed or any more tired than what I would consider normal. I have random aches and pains that go and come but all seem to have identifiable causes and solutions. The massages have been a huge help obviously, but I’m also eating better (read: not good, I’m still a fatty, but better) and sleeping more. I’m also running A LOT on softer surfaces which I think is a big contributor to my (knock on wood) consistency and health. I feel like February went a long way toward setting me up for success in the coming months of this year and beyond, but it is just one month, just a start.
All that time spent running can certainly drag on me, and it has from time to time. I’ve managed to get together with some runners here and there to do some runs or part of some runs together but the vast majority of those 546 miles were run by myself. I was talking to my mom last night about how things are going here. It struck me as I was telling her about my awesome Sunday how a day like that can put the rest of the days in a different light. Most days are not like last Sunday, not even close. Most days are get up early, drag my ass out of bed, run, work all day, run pretty much immediately after work, often until well past dark, come home and eat something, maybe veg for an hour or so, go to sleep. Limited to no human contact outside of work. Limited to no time for anything other than running and the essentials outside of work. Like I said, it can drag. I have the luxury of living like this right now because I don’t have a family, or anyone really who I am obligated to give my time to, and so I don’t. I realize I’m not going to be in this situation forever, and I’m not going to be 26 and in good health forever, so as I was explaining to my mom (who worries considerably about my happiness and all that nonsense parents have to kvetch about), no I’m not what I’d consider “happy” most days, but I think what I’m doing will pay off later. Running good races, being somewhat competitive, testing my limits, exceeding expectations, those are things that will make me happy. A day like Sunday, that’s enough to keep me going, enough to put my head back down and keep trucking along step after step after step. Most of the time I’m just uncomfortable and awkward in social situations anyway, so my time is clearly better spent alone running through the woods. Sometimes it depresses me that running by myself for a few hours a day feels more normal than talking with people, even other runners, out at a bar or whatnot but it does.
The main thing I wanted to put down in this month’s recap is that I had a good month. I finished it in better shape than I started. And I finished it with my desire to keep working the way I’ve been working still burning. Thirty-one days from now I’ll be running my first 100 mile race. I’ve got a couple other things, races and even (hopefully) non-running related things, to look forward to before the end of the month. Maybe when I write my March recap, I can say that I’m in better shape than I was right now AND I’m even a little happier. If you’re gonna dream, dream big, right?
Til next time… RUN HAPPY everyone!
Sunday I ran what is known as the Club Challenge, a 10 mile race on the roads in Howard County. It’s hosted by the Howard County Striders and is for all of the Maryland (and nearby) running clubs to get together and see who’s the best. Because of the club aspect, it’s free for members of the various clubs and pretty much every good runner in the area comes out, making it an unusually competitive race, especially for the end of February. I ran it last year, only a few weeks after returning to running from an extended layoff to deal with a myriad of injuries and pseudo-injuries. I ended up running a 1:02:30 which really surprised me because I didn’t think I was in very good shape at all and I wasn’t particularly running all out during the race. It was a good way to start what was a sort of up and down spring of racing that culminated with a 59:07 10 mile PR at Broad Street in May.
This year, I’m living five or so hours south of Baltimore and until early in January figured I’d be missing Club Challenge. And then I went ahead and re-upped my membership in the BRRC JUST so I could register for Club Challenge and have an excuse to visit and see a bunch of people who I miss. The timing wasn’t ideal, in that I had a work retreat that went Friday overnight into Saturday morning so I would be driving up on Saturday afternoon, running the race Sunday morning, then driving home. In my mind, it would be worth it. Going into the race, I didn’t really know what to expect from myself. This year has obviously started much better than last year, but for the past few months my focus has shifted from shorter distances to ultramarathons. My goal races are the upcoming 100 miler and some 12 and 24 hour races later in the year. I’ve done a handful of runs that could be considered workouts, and those were mostly half-assed or lacking any sort of focus. I knew I was in pretty good shape but had no idea how my legs would respond if I tried to run about an hour or so quicker than normal. Last Tuesday’s 9 mile sorta-quick run on the super flat ATT made me think I should be happy if I could run the same pace for 10 at Club Challenge because I remembered the course being pretty hilly last year.
Enough backstory. I got to Baltimore early Saturday evening. Johnny and I jogged a little 4 miler around his neighborhood in crazy cold wind and went to get some dinner. I got to sleep around 11 and the couch cushions on the floor were surprisingly comfortable to sleep on. I woke up a little after 6, feeling better than expected, small bowl of cheerios, and I was ready to go. We got to the community college where the race started and finished a little after 7. Bib picked up, caught up with some BRRC people I hadn’t seen in a while, went to the bathroom, and then headed back out to the car to finish getting ready. Went with a t-shirt because while it was a little chilly, there wasn’t much wind and the sun was kinda warm. Johnny and I jogged a little 15 minute warm-up and headed to the start just in time. Having no delusions of winning the race, or even coming anywhere close (seriously, some REALLY fast people run this!) I lined up a row or two off the front just as the starter was saying, “Runners set, GO!” And we were all off.
My goal for the race was primarily to run fairly hard but under control and even. It would be a bonus if I could beat the time I ran last year, despite having A LOT more volume on my legs this time and not even close to fresh. With that I allowed the mad rush of people to dart off the line and I settled in to what felt like a good rhythm. I knew the first 5ish miles are mostly downhill with a few ups and the second half of the race is much more uphill, so it’s easy to go out hard and pay for it later. After the first minute or so I settled in a few meters behind a group of about six or seven guys in Falls Road Running singlets. Falls Road sponsors Team That’s What She Said, which comprises basically every good runner in the city. I heard someone mention they were aiming to run right around an hour and I figured if it felt good, I’d just hang here for the time being. I also saw Serge Arbona a few seconds up ahead. Serge is one of my ultrarunning heroes, having already accomplished some mind-boggling things (like holding the world record for distance run in 24 hours on a treadmill). He’s also running Umstead next month which is part of why I decided to sign up for that. I think it’s such a cool aspect of the sport that you can run right there with the best of the best (albeit not for very long but still!).
It’s well-known that the mile markers along the course are kind of off so I was happy to have my Garmin to get at least an idea of what I was running. It appeared that I was running right around 5:55s for the first few miles which was cool because I felt like I was expending less effort than on Tuesday’s run. Of course, there were some nice downhills where it felt basically like cheating. Around mile 3 we crossed over this bridge and began a loop of some neighborhood. I went by one or two guys here and at this point I had a literal wall of five Falls Road guys in front of me, and Serge and another BRRC runner tucked into that group. We went by a few people but that group essentially stayed together for another mile or two.
We hit what is close enough to the halfway mark so I’ll go with it in about 29:30. Right after the sign, the course turns left and begins climbing a decent hill. To that point, there had been a few rises but nothing terribly substantial. I had noticed that on the ups I didn’t need to really push much harder to maintain, and I seemed to be stronger than the people around me. When we hit this rise, Serge kind of took off ahead. I was feeling really good, definitely not like I was racing yet, and figured if I pushed here I wouldn’t have far to go even if I got tired. So I did. And I ended up going by everyone in that little group, catching and going pass Serge too. By the top of the hill I had caught up to two other runners and one of the Falls Road guys had caught back up to me. We turned and wound around some more neighborhood streets, me, the Falls Road guy, and a Howard County Striders runner. Back over the bridge and into some other development right around mile 7. The uphills had slowed me some, but I was still right around pace to finish in about an hour. It was around this point that I entertained the thought that it would be realistic to do just that, break an hour. Last year, the hour 10 mile seemed like this giant goal that would be real tough to achieve on the flat, fast Broad Street course. And here I was running well within myself and thinking that if I just maintained, I’d do it again.
A little before mile 8, the course turned onto a larger road that ran by a school. I remember passing some fading runners here last year. No longer tucked in neighborhoods to protect us, there was a headwind for most of this stretch that kinda sucked. It was at this point it stopped feeling like a tempo run and felt more like a race effort. My legs were also starting to feel the cumulative fatigue of 120-130 mile weeks. 2ish miles to go, mentally I knew I could dig in and gut it out. The Falls Road guy was a few seconds ahead and I just locked my eyes on him and tried not to lose ground. The course turned back onto some side streets, there was a downhill that I let loose on and then another short climb. A few more turns and with about a mile to go (probably less), I recognized the street I was on as leading back to the college. I made the final turn onto the street the race had started on, which meant there was about half a mile to go. I thought about going all out to try to catch the Falls Road guy but was a little worried how the hamstring would react so I just tried to accelerate gradually to the end. Two quick turns in the parking lot and it was a short downhill to the finish line. When I turned and could see the clock I was a little surprised to see it reading 59:22, :23, :24,… I sprinted that last bit and crossed in 59:29.
That’s a 3 minute course PR and only 22 seconds slower than I ran Broad Street last year. I was also 37th overall (last year I was 57th) and the first finisher for the BRRC. This was about as big a confidence booster as that Saturday 44 miler was. I ran almost the same time for 10 miles on a much harder course, feeling relatively comfortable for a large portion of the race, despite not having focused on running fast or short races at all. Progress! Falls Road ended up crushing skulls and winning everything (individual male and female, team co-ed, male, and female). I was able to see Johnny finish up in a big new PR, crushing his under-70 goal (66:14)! Success and great days all around!
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone