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Umstead 100(sortakinda) race report

A few Saturdays ago, I had the pleasure of lacing up my shoes and once again toeing the line at the Umstead 100 mile endurance run. Having done this back in 2012 (to very happy results) and last year (to somewhat less happy but still pretty positive results), and with a good few months of training in my legs, I was optimistic that my experience and fitness would carry me to a PR and maybe more. Umstead holds a special place in my heart (both the park and the race) as it was basically the first thing I fell in love with when I moved here five years ago (well, that and Fullsteam). And having done so well at both the marathon and the 100 in 2012, the memories of both those races fuel many a run where I’m feeling less than my best. It’s also a bit of a gathering of ultrarunner friends both near and far that I may not have seen in a while, which this year was both an exciting and an annoying thing. Friday’s pasta dinner allowed me to catch up with one of the legends of this sport and race, and one of my personal heroes, Serge Arbona. The two of us and his son had spaghetti and meatballs and talked about training and life and that was nice. I also had to see my terrible, awful, no good, very bad ex-girlfriend but fortunately was able to avoid her.
I got a pretty good night’s sleep Friday night. Almost too good. The race starts at 6 am Saturday. I set a few alarms on my phone to go off between 4:37 and 4:48 (I’m weird with alarms, whatever). UNFORTUNATELY, I forgot that I had set them all to go off ONLY Monday through Friday. Whoops. Fortunately I awoke from some weird dream involving sand castles, Chargrill milkshakes, and Mario Kart at 4:40 on my own. Damn that blue shell! I am not very organized and of course didn’t bother to get everything together BEFORE I went to sleep so I set about groggily getting all my stuff together and getting out the door. I ate “breakfast” on my way over which consisted of some almonds and a honey stinger waffle. When I got there, with about twenty minutes to spare (early by my usual standards), I downed a black coffee and did my business. Melissa found me at my car and asked me how I was doing. “Well, I have about ten minutes before the race and I’m looking for something to pin my bib with,” was my kinda snarky answer. Sorry Melis, it was early! I DID manage to get all my crap somewhere closeish to the start area, and get my water bottle filled, shoes tied, number pinned, etc etc and get to the start line with about a minute to spare. Val, who selflessly offered to crew me for the race, met me around there and fortunately she said she’d move all my stuff somewhere closer to the course and have stuff ready for me after the loop. Cool. I said hi to Serge, saw Dan Lenz who gave me a big bro-hug, and basically we were off.
It wasn’t raining like the weather people had promised. Instead, it was actually kinda warmish and very humid. I was wishing it would just drizzle actually. The start is exactly like the marathon start, climbing up the gravel road out of Camp Lapihio. Two guys “blasted” off to the front… I use air quotes because unless you are a handful of people (none of whom were at this race) there is no real “blast mode” happening at the start of a 100 mile race. Serge and I settled in a few steps behind them. And that’s basically how it stayed for the first few miles. The beginning of a race of this length is always kinda weird. I was sorta tired but fighting off the adrenaline surge that comes with finally doing something I’ve been training for and thinking about for months. So I was very glad to have Serge’s company early on. We ran along the bridle trail at what felt like an easy jog and I could sense some runners maybe pacing off us as they were just a few steps behind us with seemingly no desire to go by. We slowed at the unmanned aid station and I grabbed a gel and the guys behind us absolutely slowed down too. It was kind of amusing to me, no one wanted to go by Serge because his reputation preceded him. At the first aid station, about 7 miles in, Serge ducked off to go to the bathroom and I was now on my own.
The Turkey Creek section was next and I was feeling spry so I actively had to hold back and not bound up the inclines. I had myself sorta powerhiking up them and then taking the downhills a little faster than otherwise. It felt great, I was nailing my plan. I came in from the first loop in about 1:51ish,in 3rd place, within striking distance of two guys I didn’t think were about to run sub-15, right as planned , feeling fine. I swapped out water bottles, grabbed some watermelon and two salt pills and was on my way. Unfortunately I shoved everything in my mouth at once and as I went to bite into the watermelon I chomped the salt pills and they ruptured and I instinctively spit them out. Whoops. Ugh. I had some coconut water so electrolytes weren’t too much of a concern. Oh but to think I was so full of confidence and excitement.
The first chink in the armor came as I was going around the airport turnaround. I burped and all I tasted was the spaghetti sauce from last night’s dinner. Hmm. Ok, weird but whatever. My stomach felt a little sloshy but I didn’t think much of it. That is until we got to the first unmanned aid station, whereupon I ducked into a portapotty and proceeded to spend 5 minutes in there throwing up and… other stuff. I was kind of annoyed but also hopeful that that would be the end of it and I didn’t lose THAT much time, considering the race was still young. Ha! In the ensuing 2-3 miles to the far aid station I threw up another half dozen or so times. Yup. All of a sudden the act of running was causing an all out rebellion in my stomach. I got to the far aid station and didn’t really know what to do. I think I took a salt pill, I know I asked for some stomach stuff but all they had were Tums. I downed some knowing it wouldn’t do much if anything. It didn’t. Right before the big bad hill on Turkey Creek I lost it again. It seemed to be a pattern — I would run for about ten minutes and then my stomach gave up and emptied whatever was left (mostly the water and gatorade I had just put in it). It sucked. My legs were like ‘WTF dude let’s GOOOOOOO’ and I just… couldn’t. We’ve all been there I’m sure. But I had about 80 miles staring me in the face. I knew that I had ZERO desire to spend the next 80 miles following this pattern so when I came in at the end of my second loop, mentally I was done. At some point on this loop it started pouring so I was also soaked and my feet were sloshing in my Launches but that didn’t matter much to me. I got done with the loop and told Val that I would probably be a while up there. Mentally, I was already checked out. I went into the lodge and undressed, put on dry stuff, but I didn’t go back out. Instead I waited for my friends who were coming in about an hour. I waited for Serge to come in at the end of his 3rd lap. I was done.
And really, we can end this here. I ran two loops at Umstead, much MUCH slower than many two loops I’ve done in training. I threw up more than I have in any race ever. I quit and took a four hour break. Four hours (and like 6 hot dogs) later I decided I felt ok enough to get some more running in. I was planning on being there til my friends finished, I might as well get some miles in. So I set out on lap number 3, and the pressure of competing for the win off, I just enjoyed it. Said hi to most people. Toward the end of the loop, coming up Graylyn I came upon another friend of mine from Brooklyn, Mary, and ran/walked the rest of the way in with her. She was struggling so I decided to do my fourth loop with her and her pacer. It was much more entertaining than doing it by myself. And then, for good measure, I did a 5th loop with her. So I finished up my “failure” with 62.5 miles, the slowest 62.5 miles I’ve ever run, and lots of laughs.
Lots of people were like, “You have soooo much time to do your last three loops, get out there!” To which I chuckled and responded, “yeah, I’m good.” I dunno. I don’t have that suffer gene that most ultrarunners do I guess. The thought of spending another 6-7 hours “running”, in the dark and the cold overnight just to say I finished 100 miles held absolutely zero appeal to me. There were plenty of people who did just that and I applaud them, they are mentally tougher than I. And I am 100% ok with that. For me, having been there twice and knowing what it entailed, I had nothing to prove to anyone, myself in particular, and was perfectly content with my 100k training run. There will be more down the road. I don’t even know why I wrote this up, except that some people asked about it and now I don’t have to repeat myself over and over. I COULD talk about how it’s been an exceptionally stressful start to the year, how I while the running and lifting and whatever people qualify as “training” has gone well, my personal life has been kind of shambles (more than just partially self-inflicted mind you). I’ve been suffering really badly with anxiety and panic attacks, my mind racing when I lay down to go to sleep with thoughts about things I could have and should have done differently in certain situations, it all snowballing into more than a few sleepless nights and lots of tears. I’m a work in progress on all fronts. We all are. This is starting to sound A LOT like excuses, and it’s not. My personal, romantic, etc mistakes and sadnesses did not ruin my race at Umstead. Missing a particular person did not cause my stomach to repeatedly empty its contents two and a half hours into a race I otherwise felt really great at. Nope. Just a crappy day, literally and figuratively. As I have learned, in life and in running, there are days like this. And fortunately I have experience days that are diametrically opposite of these, filled with the sort of feelings you know even in that moment you want to lock away inside and never forget how it feels, both in running and in life. Life goes on, it’s just a race. If you read this drivel, I owe you a beer.
Mark, out.

April 25, 2016 at 8:46 pm 2 comments

Umstead trail marathon disaster report

This is, ostensibly, a running blog but clearly I have curated it lately. Or really, I’ve razed the fucking thing to the ground. This blog started back when I thought I was someone worth reading about. I have since learned that self importance is bullshit.  Ego is bullshit. That most of what I do is bullshit that only a handful of people care about and I am no great shakes. That is quite alright with me.

So what is the point of this? Well I ran a marathon this past Saturday and it was the worst marathon I’ve ever run and a bunch of people have asked me about it so I’m writing this so that I can point them here instead of talking about it. And also I’m writing this because aside from my therapist and my journal I have no outlet for this sort of shit.

I ran Umstead because Kim and Jason Page are wonderful, kind, generous human beings and allowed me to. Much like most times I’ve run the Umstead marathon, which happens to be my favorite race on earth, I was gifted an entry by the kindness of Bull City Running Company. I have been training for the Umstead 100 mile run and so my marathon legs are… lacking. However, I certainly possess the ability to cover 26.2 miles and have more than a few times in the past few months and thus felt good going into Saturday. What a fool!

It did not go so well. I showed up ready to run. I have had a solid stretch of training that I will not bore anyone with but suffice it to say I have been running, both long and hard (obligatory that’s what she said) for the last few months. So 9 am Saturday rolled around and I was on the front line next to superwoman, err, Lorraine, and as we got the start command, I ran. The first few miles were completely uneventful. We went up the same way we will at the 100 miler, we turned, we went onto the Company Mill single track. I held back because I felt ok and I didn’t want to hurt myself. Jay was there and we were chatting like it was just some regular old Saturday morning long run.

So far so good. But then I came upon mile twelve-ish. Right around the first time I came upon the wonderful paradise aid station, my quads decided they had had enough of the day. Somewhere on Graylyn I remember Ronnie telling me he saw a hitch in my giddyup. This was not inaccurate. There was a hitch in my giddyup. And it just got worse. By the halfway point my quads started cramping like a mofo. And it just got worse from there. At times, I was crumpled up on the side of the trail, beating on my vastus medialus like it had done something seriously offensive to me. It cramped like it had not cramped in years, since the first time I attempted to run 50k in DC. It cramped like it did on the side of the George Washington Parkway in 2009, total lock up.

Anyway, the important stuff is that I “ran” ok for about 12-13 miles, and even at 16 miles, I was still on pace for a 3:30 finish. And then the wheels came off and everything went to shit. I first noticed a cramp-y feeling near the paradise aid station on the way out. I don’t know specifically what mile that was but it was earlier than it should be in a marathon. I grabbed a lei to help me remember that things should be fun but it didn’t help; nothing was fun. I walked the uphills not because I was tired but because if I attempted to run them, my quads seized up and would not relent. Hell, the flats and downhills were bad enough. Everything sucked and I just wanted to be done. And eventually, I was. Three hours and fifty-four minutes after I started I ran through the finish line. By several minutes, a personal worst.

Blah, blah, blah something about building character or something noble. Guys, here’s a secret, there is NOTHING remotely character-building about this run. I did not learn a goddamn thing about myself from suffering for almost four hours. Sure, I had to dig deep into my well of suck it up to not say fuck it and be done but to be honest, the way the course is set up, it would have been pretty inconvenient to quit early, so part of the reason I finished was just that it made sense… my car was at the finish so I was going to have to go there anyway. There is absolutely nothing impressive or noteworthy about this and I feel kind of silly even spending this many words writing about it. Ultimately, I ran a race and I finished and it was one of the worst race performances I’ve ever had and, hey, what do you know, life goes on.

And that’s the thing of it… life has a way of putting things in perspective. I can handle the marathon going poorly because there is plenty in my life right now that this race pales in comparison too. Running is nice, I like it, I do it, I will continue to do it, and I have some big-ish goals even. But it’s not an all encompassing thing to me, it does not define me, it is not where I derive my self-worth from. I have enough outside of running to stress the fuck out about; last week I got to have a nice, longer-than-expected jog in the woods.

Mark, out.

 

March 11, 2016 at 12:57 pm Leave a comment

2012 3 Days at the Fair 12 Hour Race Report

This past weekend I ran the 12 hour race at Three Days at the Fair. The race is one of many races held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in northwestern NJ. There are also 72, 48, 24, and 6 hour options that start as early as Thursday morning. Last year, Phil McCarthy set the American record for 48 hours at the race and it seemed like he was coming back this year to do it again. I decided to do the race for a few reasons. It was six weeks after Umstead so hypothetically I’d have enough time to recover and see what sort of shape I was in. It was held at night (9pm Saturday to 9am Sunday) and I’ve never run through the night before so I figured it would be good to get some experience with that prior to the 24 hour races I’ll be attempting later this year. And it was in NJ, which meant I culd go home for Mother’s Day weekend and my family could actually come see me run an ultra.

This won’t be as long as some of the tomes I’ve written about other similarly long races. There’s really not THAT much to say and I don’t feel like rehashing every one of the 98 laps I completed. If you’re the kind of person who likes to read the spoilers, I ran a lot. 84.06 miles to be exact. And I won. By about 21 miles. For that, I got a cool ceramic trophy thing that I had to leave at my parents house because there was no room in my bag to fly home with. I also got pretty tired. And sore.

A slightly more elaborated version of events:

Friday night I got back to LI late-ish, after working almost 10 hours. I jogged around the neighborhood with Scott and went to bed much later than planned. Saturday was weird, I didn’t really know how to prepare for running all night. So I slept as late as I could, which turned out to be about 10:30am. I figured maybe I could nap later (never happened). Getting out the door with my family is ALWAYS an adventure and this was no different. The four of us were on the road for NJ shortly after 2 and arrive around 4-4:30. It was pretty warm at the fairgrounds and I saw only a few runners trucking away. I tried to guess which ones were doing which races based on how fresh they looked. Check in, get a really sweet jacket, head to a nearby diner around 5 for my ‘last meal’ and then Walmart for some last minute supplies (pepto and Boost, both of which would come in handy later… FORESHADOWING!!!). We got back to the fairgrounds around 7 and I just relaxed, in the car, then by the race, going to the bathroom, going over my stuff, whatever to kill some time. With about a half hour to go before the start I began getting ready in earnest, changing into my race gear, going to the bathroom, A&Ding (yes, I turned it into a verb), shoes (I was wearing a brand new pair of Brooks Green Silences, not exactly the first shoe that comes to mind when thinking about running for 12 hours but I wanted to go fast for the first few hours and I knew that was a good shoe to do that in), going over the plan with my family, etc. With three minutes to go I went over to the start area where the other dozen or so 12 hour racers were assembled. One last pee and check on my laces and I got ready to go.

At 9pm sharp, we were off and running. To fully describe how the race went, and in what context I’m evaluating it after the fact, I suppose it would be helpful to know what my goals and expectations were going into it. I was less concerned about actually running the 12 hour race than I was about hitting certain intermediate distances. What I REALLY wanted to do was run a fastish 50 mile split, and hopefully hold on for 100k. After that, I was hoping I’d have about 4 hours left and I’d just relax and do whatever I could for the remaining time, enjoying myself and experiencing what it’s like to run overnight AND be pretty wrecked (as I was sure I would be after the early push). With that in mind, I bolted off the line like I was running a marathon. Within seconds I could tell I was waaaay out ahead of everyone, and I’m sure I was getting more than a few curious and WTF looks from everyone, runners and spectators alike.

All the races are run on the same ~0.86 mile loop around part of the fairgrounds. There’s minimal elevation change (a slight incline near the start/finish and a slight decline right after, the rest is essentially flat). Most people find the prospect of running in tiny circles horrifying but I actually like it, primarily because it makes logistics simple and I didn’t need to run while holding anything. Anyway, on the first loop, I was cruising along and then I promptly got myself lost. Yes, I got lost. On a 0.86 mile, well lit loop. That’s actually probably the most impressive thing I did the entire race! I realized my folly when I looked at the Garmin and saw I had almost run a mile. With no lights or finish area or runners in sight. Whoops! Angrily I backtracked, looking for another human being or sign of where to go. Initially I couldn’t see any. Finally I saw where I had missed the turn and went the right way. I finished the first loop behind a few runners who were probably pretty surprised to see me passing them after one lap, as clearly I wasn’t going THAT fast.

There’s really not that much else to write about. For the next few hours I was cruising along right around 7:00 pace. Early on, the whole family stayed up and helped out. They’d hand me water or coconut water or a gel or whatever I asked for and pick it up on the other side of the bathrooms that we lollipopped around. It went pretty smoothly for the most part. I split about 3:15-16 for the first marathon+ and at that point I’m sure most people assumed I was an idiot who had no idea what he was doing and would blow up. Even my mom told me I was going too fast at one point. I felt pretty good, and I was moving well, and I knew it would suck later but that wasn’t the main issue. On the other hand, there IS something exhilarating and motivating about knowing that everyone is just waiting for you to explode. It’s a feeling I’ve gotten familiar with the past few months, trying to push myself to prove these hypothetical doubters wrong. It’s a racing style I know Pre would approve of. It’s some kind of fun.

Anyway, I had one bathroom trip a little before 50 miles, but I downed some Pepto and it didn’t seem to become a bigger issue like in Georgia. I think I split around 6:30 for 50 miles, a little slower than planned but it was also a little over 50 miles and I had run some bonus distance on that first lap. So, right on. A little before I got there though, I started having the familiar top of left foot, left ankle pain/soreness and that was annoying. Everything else felt pretty good but the pain was persistent without ever escalating to the point where I needed to stop. It was after 3am and I was experiencing a sort of getting tired that I don’t really think is completely attributable to running. I was getting tired like I do nowadays when sitting on the recliner watching tv at 1am on the weekends. A more full body tired. Running at night is tough. Of course, I had forgotten any 5 hour energy or other caffeine product. Oh well. I held things together pretty well through 100kish, which I hit around 8:20-8:30 (?). I think. Close enough. I had slowed but I hadn’t blown up completely. The pain in my foot/ankle had actually subsided some. People were still being very encouraging as I went by, which is a really cool aspect of races like this. Everyone is out there doing their thing and truckin away and everyone is SO encouraging and friendly and supportive. I just hope I didn’t come across as a bit of a cold jerk as all I really mustered most of the time was a thumbs up and/or a thanks. I get a little single-mindedly focused and spaced out sometimes running. Some people were actually calling out my name as I passed, which was neat, as I didn’t really recognize anyone so they either 1)knew who I was already which is cool or 2) asked about me at the start/finish. Or my mom went around telling everyone how awesome her son was, but she and my brother went to sleep in the car fairly early on so I figured that unlikely.

Dad was a freakin rockstar. He stayed up THE ENTIRE TIME, every loop having something ready for me, bearing the full brunt of my increasingly decreasing enjoyment of what I was doing and the rising level of overall surliness I was beginning to display. The last 4ish hours were… well, they happened. And that’s about all I can really say about them. I continued to move and complete laps. I had another, longer, bathroom stop and kinda cramped up a bit. I wasn’t going as fast as I had been, nor was I going as fast as I probably COULD have been, but I didn’t care. The sun came out and I was ready to be finished. I began doing some sketchy mental math to figure out the bare minimum effort I’d need to put forth to complete 80ish miles. My mom woke up and she was cheering and I felt bad that she was wasting that energy on me. Dad began asking me what I wanted on the next laps and I kept responding, “to be finished.” It wasn’t even worth a chuckle. With a little less than an hour left I told my dad I’d do two more laps to get to 80.something and then walk a lap or two and be done. That happened. And then I kinda powerwalked/jogged a lap and it wasn’t much slower than the previous few. I had about 29 minutes left and Rick, the AWESOME RD, told me three more laps. Well, balls. In my head, I didn’t really have a choice. So I picked it up a bit. And then at the end of THAT lap, two of the 72 hour runners started BOOKING! Like, FAST. And Rick told me to chase them. So I did. And wouldn’t you know it, I could still RUN. I ran the last two laps and finished with about 6:30 remaining on the clock. Mom told me to go do another and I knew that would be impossible. I was done. 84.06 miles.

I got out of my shoes and assessed the damage — swollen left ankle obviously, some blisters, some chafing, but ultimately nothing too bad. I got this really sweet ceramic trophy for winning. I met a lot of cool people at the awards and after. Sat next to Steve Tursi who also did Umstead and we talked for a bit. He was one of the ones who had been SUPER encouraging throughout the night and I told him how much I appreciated it. Melissa grabbed me before we left and we talked about how we’re doing some of the same races coming up (Finger Lakes and 20in24). My family had also made friends with Bill, the boyfriend of the women’s 12 hour winner, an Irish lass named Aoife who was also super impressive all day (and probably much nicer in general than I was toward the end of the race). She’s a bad ass who is doing Badwater, and I’m of course jealous about that. It’s funny how I had JUST wrote in my last post about loneliness and meeting people at ultras and all that semi-maudlin sounding nonsense and here I go making some friends. ME! Making friends! Miracles DO happen. I’m still as socially inept and shy as I always am, but ultrarunners are a much friendlier, welcoming group than the majority of people I see in public. It does feel more and more like this is a niche I might actually be able to fit in to, at least somewhat.

I know I mentioned it already but I just have to devote a paragraph to pointing out how ABSOLUTELY AMAZING my family was in this whole endeavor (and this is not just because I know you’re going to read this mom!). It was Mother’s Day weekend and they all drove out with me to NJ and helped me run around in circles for 12 hours overnight and brought such an enthusiasm the whole time. AND mom cooked my favorite, ravioli, Sunday evening. HER day and she cooked ME my favorite meal ‘to celebrate my victory’ or something like that. Dad, who is not a young man anymore, and who routinely goes to bed earliest of the four of us, and who is capable of falling asleep milliseconds after sitting in a chair, stayed up THE ENTIRE NIGHT. And not once looked annoyed or grumpy or anything negative. He was the biggest reason I was able to have as good a race as I did. I was SO HAPPY to have them there to see me do this, much moreso than I was about how I ran or anything like that. They’ve seen me race before, but not in a way that I feel suits me, and not in anywhere near the kind of shape I’m in now. Hopefully I can continue to put on a good show for them in the next few years, give mom something bigger to brag every single person in her phone’s contact list about. Thank you family, we may all be a bit insane but we are my favorite nonetheless.

Mark, out.

May 16, 2012 at 8:55 pm Leave a comment

2012 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report

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 race

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 rememberfeeling 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 3rdplace.

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’m still sort of decompressing and recovering and getting my mind around things.

Mark, out.

April 5, 2012 at 1:23 pm Leave a comment

2012 Umstead Marathon race report

 

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 race

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.

Mark, out.

 

March 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm Leave a comment

Temporary scars, February stars

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?

Even though I pass this time alone
Somewhere so unknown
It heals the soul

Mark, out.

March 1, 2012 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

2012 Weymouth Woods 100k Race Report

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!

The race

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).

Post race

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.

 

My splits (Katie texted me on Sunday to tell me they were ‘beautiful’):

Lap # Lap Time Lap Pace Cumulative Distance Cumulative Time
1 37:54.8    8:29              4.47 37:54.7
2 37:54.0    8:29              8.94 1:15:48.80
3 37:05.0    8:18              13.41 1:52:53.80
4 37:08.9    8:18              17.88 2:30:02.70
5 37:52.5    8:28              22.35 3:07:55.15
6 38:01.5    8:30              26.82 3:45:56.65
7 36:40.3    8:12              31.29 4:22:36.95
8 38:04.6    8:31              35.76 5:00:41.60
9 38:34.7    8:38              40.23 5:39:16.35
10 39:56.4    8:56              44.7 6:19:12.80
11 40:53.8    9:09              49.17 7:00:06.60
12 41:52.0    9:22              53.64 7:41:58.60
13 42:30.2    9:33              58.11 8:24:28.80
14 40:58.9    9:10              62.58 9:05:27.65

January 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm Leave a comment

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