Weymouth Woods 100k race report
Appropriately enough, my 100th post is a race report from a 100k…
Saturday I ran the Weymouth Woods 100k down in Southern Pines, NC. I had targeted this race for a number of reasons. For one, Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve, where the race was held, is only about an hour south of me so I wouldn’t have to worry much about travel. It also worked out in the lead-up to Umstead. While it was a race and of course I want to do well in races, I viewed it as more important as a an opportunity to test equipment, fueling, etc and get a really well-supported long run in with plenty of time to recover before the goal race. The 100k consisted of fourteen ~4.5 mile loops on the trails through the park, which at first seems horribly boring but I didn’t really mind and it made logistics a lot simpler. A big bonus was the fact that the always amazing Ashley was flying in from Boston and my brother Scott and his best friend Pete were coming in from LI, specifically to come to the race for me. Add to that my cousins who live in Raleigh were planning on coming down with their little boys who know I run but have never actually SEEN me run a race, and I was pretty stoked. I was also feeling slightly bad that all these people were going to see me and I wasn’t exactly expecting that good a performance. My training hasn’t exactly been stellar since Stone Cat. I’ve had some nagging issues that have prevented me from training the way I’d have liked to and I am not in the sort of shape I hope to be in a few months from now.
Still, a race is a race and when the race starts all the outside issues and excuses get put out of mind and the goal is to run smart, hard, and well. The week leading up to the race I actually started feeling particularly good. Fresh. It probably helped that I took Tuesday and Wednesday off. An easy “8” miles showing Ashley one of my favorite routes (the loop around Lake Crabtree) Thursday evening and a quicker-than-it-felt shakeout Friday night led me to believe that my legs were definitely ready for the race. Mentally, I was also in a much better place than usual before such a long race. I think a big part of this had to do with my lowered expectations. I was looking forward to just being out there running, not trying to make months of hard work and training culminate in something that would make it all worth it.
Friday night we all got pizzas at Bella Mia, got my stuff together, and got to bed a bit later than I probably should have. But I slept like a rock, another departure from usual pre-race happenings. Saturday morning we were all up and on the road shortly after 5am, saw maybe a dozen cars on the way down, and made it to the park a little after 6am which meant we were able to snag a parking spot right near where the course runs along the sidewalk in front of the visitors center. Getting to the race almost two hours before the start afforded me some downtime. First there was some vegging, the typical pre-race bathroom trips, having oatmeal squares and blueberries for breakfast, the process of getting everything organized, waking up the crew and shepherding them into the warm visitor’s center, going over the plan a few more times, making sure the watch was charged, going to the pre-race meeting, then going back into the visitor’s center for final preparations with about fifteen minutes to go. I finally got my pinky toe taped up in hopes that it would help prevent he usual blister forming there, put on my Brooks Pure Grits, got my water bottle and watch and the big warm gloves and headed out to the start line with about two minutes to go. I got to the start line and didn’t have much time to think before the countdown started. Ashley wished me good luck, I shook out my legs, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!
As we crossed the start and ran about a tenth of a mile on the park road toward the trail, I settled in behind a group of about six guys, running very comfortably. Two guys had immediately shot off the front and quickly put some distance on everyone. For once I felt no temptation to run hard and get up there with them, reminding myself over and over that it was a VERY long race and it was quite probably I’d be seeing them again. As we turned onto the trail I was very happy I had made the trip down to run the course a few times the previous Saturday, knowing what to expect helped a great deal to mentally prepare for the many different things the it would throw at me. The way it worked, the first mile or so of the loop was a pretty rooty, mostly downhill winding stretch. Then we’d hit some wooden bridges, things would roll and then gradually climb for another mile or so before coming to the only aid station about halfway through the loop. From there it would be a relatively flat, immensely runnable stretch before a short climb, a short, steepish descent, some more winding, and the last mile or so to the finish would be mostly uphill, with what felt like the most arduous part coming at the very end when the trail came out behind the visitors center and wound around to the front. After each loop, we’d run along the sidewalk and make our way back onto the start of the trail. Rinse, repeat fourteen times and that’s all there was to it!
Early in the first loop I settled in with a group of three other guys, one being a fellow Brooks IDer who had run the race the previous two years (this was the third year), John, as well as a young army guy, Dan, and another dude with a sweet mustache. I recognized Ray K early in the loop, an extremely accomplished ultrarunner and someone who I’ve learned a lot from by mostly lurking on the Ultra List. That was a pretty cool moment, recognizing him. For most of this first loop we chatted idly about previous races, the weather, whatever really. I was feeling fantastic and didn’t look much at the Garmin (which I wore mostly so I could keep myself in check in the early stages), opting to go with the flow, considering no one was pressing anything. I think I led the group for most of the first loop, not necessarily by choice but because everyone else seemed a bit deferent.
We all came through within seconds of each other, 37:54, and Ashley had a fresh gel ready. I didn’t need to swap out my water bottle because I’d only had half. The plan was to eat a gel every half hour, just like I had done on my 47 mile Christmas run, and swap out the water bottles every loop so I wouldn’t have to waste time refilling. I had mostly GUs with some Hammer gels, and a few Cliff shot blocks. In the water bottle was primarily coconut water which has worked extremely well for me, on some loops I asked them to add some pineapple juice. I also brought a 2L of flat Coca Cola for later and in case my stomach got upset. Finally, I had a 5 hour energy shot for the halfway point. My goal was to run about 40 minutes/loop which would give me a 9:20 finish. That was honestly what I figured I could do if everything went right and I had a great day. Considering the winner ran 9:23 the year before, I figured that would also make me competitive at the front.
I wasn’t concerned that the first loop was a bit faster than the plan as I almost felt like I’d cheated and gotten through it without any real effort. I remember one of my early running mentors talking about a 5k and saying you want to get through that first kilometer feeling like you haven’t been racing at all yet. I just sort of extrapolated that to the first few loops here. Loop two was pretty much identical to the first. No really. I ran almost EXACTLY the same time (37:54.75 vs 37:54.05). After this second loop, I ditched the really big warm gloves as my hands were actually feeling too hot and the gloves made handling the gels and all that almost impossible. Instead I got Ashley’s pink ones. Awesome. I opted to keep the MacArthur wrestling hat and my long sleeve Brooks shirt on a little longer. I also had on clear safety glasses, the reasoning being that my previous experience with my eyes ‘fogging up’ during my last few ultras and long runs was probably related to the cold air and wind so hopefully the safety glasses would help prevent that. But the kept developing condensation and so about twice per loop early on I had to wipe them off. They were also scratched up pretty bad but it was better than the alternative (being blind with 30ish miles to go). As I came out of the woods at the end of every loop someone from the crew would be standing behind the visitors center and I could hear the cheering, “GO MARK!” as I climbed the hill. That was one of the best parts of the race. Every 4.5 miles I got to see Pete, Scott, and Ashley and there enthusiasm was noticeable and appreciated. I started the third loop in much the same frame of mind, feeling great, definitely wanting to push the pace but realizing that it was waaaay too early. I bargained with myself that around 40 miles would be ok to start running hard if I still had it in my legs, and if I didn’t, that would be the time to really dig in.
At some point early in this loop, our little group of four became fractured. Dan and I got a little ahead of the other two and ran most of this loop by ourselves. At one point we passed a guy, who looking at the splits and results I realize must have been James Brennan, and with that there were only two runners ahead of us, albeit way ahead and out of sight already. We chatted a bit and I learned that he was from upstate NY and his previous longest race was the Marine Corps marathon last fall. He was anticipating it hurting pretty bad later but said he was tough. I was impressed. The two of us came through the third loop together but I as I kept moving through quickly, I was on my fourth a little ahead of him. That was the last I ran with any other racer all day. I was 13+ miles in with a long way to go and I just settled in for the long haul.
The next few loops are mostly uneventful and kind of blended together. I was doing a very good job of eating every half hour, sipping from my water bottle every few minutes, and generally relaxing into the run. I’d check my watch every mile or so and was pleased to note how consistently I was running and how good I felt. I took it easier on the uphills and was cautious on the downhills. I wiped out once early, I think it was the third loop, landing on my knee, then rolling to my hip, and finally smacking the side of my head. There were two or three stubbed toes which hurt and I paid for after the race but other than that, I remained upright and moving forward. After the fourth loop I took off my long sleeve. After the sixth loop (almost mile 27), I took off my wool hat in favor of a baseball cap as I was definitely warm enough. This helped cut down on the condensation forming on my glasses, win-win! I also noted right before that that I had passed through a marathon in about 3:41, as opposed to ~3:19 at Stone Cat. Much smarter! I hit halfway in 4:22:36, feeling great still. I took off the t-shirt I had underneath my singlet. It was on this seventh loop that I caught and passed the guy who had been running in 2nd, though I didn’t realize it until I was done with the loop and my crew told me there was only one person ahead of me. Of course, at that point Tomasz had about a ten minute lead and was apparently running strong. I recognized the name from other race results and figured he’d have to have a really rough second half for me to have any chance of catching him.
I got through loops eight and nine in much the same fashion. Pretty sure I stopped to pee during loop nine which is reflected in it being a trifle slower than the first eight. After nine I was just over 40 miles but I was beginning to feel it a bit. I was approaching uncharted territory but I was also running a good, smart race and I was confident I could keep it up. I slowed a bit early on the tenth loop but once I got to the halfway aid station, I felt a bit better and picked it up, even dropping one of my only sub-8 miles of the race. As I crossed a bridge I saw Ray K sitting there and he told me to “keep hammering” and so I began repeating that to myself when I started feeling sorry for myself or particularly low. As I came through at the end of the loop, Ashley was there ready to run some with me and after taking a big swig of Coke, we were off. My cousins and their little boys had also arrived at some point around here and that was a HUGE mental boost. The next three loops were basically a minute slower than the previous. Considering I was beginning to feel exponentially worse, I’m pretty happy with how well I kept it together here. Ashley was very encouraging and helped warn runners we were coming by, something I didn’t really have much energy for. I found it a little amusing when we would pass people and they said something about how good I looked, because I sure didn’t feel like it anymore. After the eleventh loop, there was a slight mix-up now that Scott was in charge of the crew and there was no water bottle filled and waiting for me. I didn’t want to stop moving so I just kept going with whatever was left in the one I had. This is one of the only (small) mistakes made the whole day and probably didn’t mean much in the big picture. At some point I noted that I passed 50 miles and, according to the watch, had done it quicker than at Stone Cat. Baller.
The penultimate loop was definitely the hardest, quite similar to how the third lap of a mile race on the track is always the toughest (to me at least). You’re so close to being done but you know that when you finish that loop, you still have a bit more running to go. I didn’t stop and walk any but there were definitely some slow stretches. My feet were beginning to hurt in spots; I could tell there was the familiar blister/callous combo on my left little toe, my big toe felt like it had rubbed and the top of it hurt like it had in previous weeks. My left Achilles had been sore off and on all day. I was feeling kind of drained. But I pressed on mostly for want of being finished, and out of my shoes and so I could finally stop moving and just lie down.
Ashley had to peel off because her calf was starting to hurt and I would be on my own for those last 4.5 miles, which somewhere in my head I kind of wanted anyway so no biggie there. I took off the glasses here, which had worked extremely well. As I passed people they asked me if this was my last and they began congratulating me. I appreciated it but in my head had to remind myself that I hadn’t yet done anything worthy of congratulations. I was running with a little more abandon, determined not to leave any energy left in reserves by the end. I blew through the halfway aid station, ran as hard as I could up the short uphill and bombed (or what felt like bombing at least) downhill. With about a mile and a half to go, my watch died. I was surprised it lasted as long as it had. No matter, didn’t need it at this point. As I crossed the wood bridge by the swamp I knew I had about a mile to go and I put the hammer down. Despite it basically all being uphill to the end I ran, harder than I had in hours. I saw Scott at one of the last trail junctions, about a half mile from the end and I almost broke down there, but instead he just started running and I made it my goal to try to catch him. It felt like I was sprinting. I came to the very last climb up and out of the trail and I pushed and pushed. My legs were on fire, like they feel in the last reps of the last set of heavy heavy squats. I could hear everyone cheering from the top of the hill and as I came out and rounded the visitor’s center I could see everyone standing there looking extremely excited for me. I ran right through the line and into Ashley’s arms for one of the best hugs ever. I finished 2nd overall in 9:05:27, about eight minutes behind the winner (and the fourth fastest time in the race’s brief history).
I congratulated Tomasz on his victory. I ended up making up nearly five minutes on him over the last nine miles, but he was clearly better all day. As I staggered the twenty or so meters to the chairs where we had set up camp, lots of random people congratulated me and I was kind of in a daze so I hoped I thanked them. Everyone wanted to know what I needed. I downed a Boost immediately and took off my singlet. I wanted a shirt and I wanted to get my shoes off, but I also had to pee. About three minutes later, Dan finished up in third place. It would be over an hour until the next finisher would come in, the three of us had lapped the rest of the field. Cool. The two of us talked a bit, congratulated each other and then I went inside the visitors center to take off my shoes and prop my legs up for a bit. Eventually we left for my cousin’s in-laws place where I had one of the most delicious burgers and sausages ever (hunger is really the best sauce).
The damage wasn’t as bad as I imagined it to be, and a few days later it’s even better (although I definitely wasn’t walking normally until Tuesday). The plan is to be smart about recovering so as not to experience any unnecessary setbacks before Umstead. I won’t be doing much of anything this week, and then I’ll be slowly getting back to normal over the next two. The confidence I gained from this race will definitely be a help. I finally managed to race smart AND hard and the result was much better than I anticipated it would be. I am eternally grateful for the wonderful people I was lucky to have there with me, and super thankful for all the race staff and volunteers who did such a fantastic job putting on the race. People have expressed disbelief that I actually ENJOY doing something like that, racing for 9+ hours over 62+ miles. At times during the race I have to remind myself I do it willingly, but the fact is, I really DO enjoy this, and thinking back a few days later, most of my thoughts are positive. It was a very fun day. Hopefully next year I’ll be back in better shape and with a slightly better result.
Since this got long (of course), I’ll put up a separate entry with the many pictures from the course. But I’ll leave you with this one I snagged from Marie Lewis, the RD
My splits (Katie texted me on Sunday to tell me they were ‘beautiful’):
|Lap #||Lap Time||Lap Pace||Cumulative Distance||Cumulative Time|
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!