As I sit here, listening to some rockin’ Gaslight Anthem and getting ready to leave for Philadelphia, I keep going back to certain moments from the past few years, over and over in my head. It’s like getting to the last chapter of a tragic novel. You can look back and see all of the crucial moments, all the forks in the road, that led up to the painful and now inevitable end to our hero’s story. You can see all the decisions made, seemingly inconsequential at the time or when taken individually, that led further down that particular dark path; the twists and turns and bits of circumstance and random happenstance that conspired against him. You can look back and see those moments or choices or whatever and retrospectively scream and wave your arms but it’s to no avail. Nothing can be done now, the die is cast. (Aside: thinking about all this, as I have for a while now, is probably why I’ve gotten so engrossed in Breaking Bad all over again, watching it from Season One straight on and eagerly anticipating the fifth season premiere Sunday night. I guess I can see a lot of similarities in Walt’s journey to his own personal darkness in my running arc, though my story has decidedly less guns and murder).
I remember back in middle school, possibly my first summer trip with the youth group to Mt. Washington. One of the trip leader’s friends had a son who was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. He met us up there and hiking the Mt. Washington section with us, regaling me with stories of lightning strikes and close encounters with bears and all that. It seemed like a superhuman and exhilarating feat.
I remember reading Dean K’s first book and thinking that this ultrarunning thing sounded kind of insane and kind of awesome. It sounded like something I might be interested in.
I remember back when I first started hanging out with Jess (or maybe even before we really were hanging out much) and she told me about how some of the guys who ran for Haverford were attempting this crazy race that had them running for 24 straight hours around the Schuylkill loop. 24 hours? Seriously? People do that?
I remember that first 50k I ran in DC and how woefully unprepared I was for it, running the entire thing with my Jansport backpack loaded up with bottle of Gatorade and an entire tub of Vaseline and a bottle of Tums. It took me five hours and I never thought anything could possibly be more difficult ever.
I remember driving up to the Finger Lakes in July of 2010, kind of on a whim, to pace Ashley for the last lap of her 50 miler. Aside from that 50k, I had never really been around the ultra atmosphere, and never like it was up there. The camaraderie, the people pushing themselves to the very edges of physical exertion (and some well overboard), the sense of accomplishment you could see on so many faces, the beer!
I remember running the BRRC half marathon on the NCR in October of 2010. It was only $2 and I figured it’d be a fun alternative long run as I prepared for the Richmond half marathon. I ended up really surprising myself. I spent the last 2-3 miles chasing a sleek figure, inching ever-so-slightly closer to him. I ended up a mere four seconds behind Serge at that race, though I’m sure he was just using it as a long run. That was the first I’d ever met him but somehow I recognized him as being Baltimore’s own ultrarunning celebrity.
I remember a little over a year ago. The BRRC picnic. It’s something I’ve mentioned here before. Talking with Serge and some other ultrarunner types about Umstead and the 20in24 Lone Ranger. I was talking to someone who had REPRESENTED THE UNITED STATES AT A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. Who had been a NATIONAL CHAMPION of something. I didn’t say much, opting instead to just soak in all that these people, particularly Serge, had to offer.
All of a sudden I’m registered for a 50 mile race. So much for not running any long races and focusing on speed for a few years. To hell with that plan. I spent too much time trying to get to a point where I felt uninjured enough to do a workout, and it wasn’t like I was going to the Olympics. Or something. Ultras seemed more fun. Or something.
Then in my mind I’m in Greensboro, NC. And I’m bent over the side of a trail throwing up more red Gatorade than I ever want to see again in my life. And 5 miles later I’m winning an ultra, the first time I’d ever done that. Despite that I’m able to find a million things that I could have done much much better. Then I’m running that 50 miler three weeks later and it is not going nearly as well as I’d anticipated.
There are some more memories like that, but they’re all much much fresher. They’re mostly from a point in time already far along the path. I suppose the last significant choice I had to make was back in September when I sat myself in front of my computer at noon and managed to register for the Umstead 100. Doing that, there was no more turning back. What choice did I have? Along the way it turned out I really enjoy running timed races. Two 12 hour races confirmed that (and also highlighted just how amazing Yiannis Kouros is).
All that to say I’ve had a lot of time lately to be particularly reflective of all the moments I experienced and choices I made that got to here. And where is here? Here is about to head out the door and drive to Philadelphia. Here is about 21 hours away from taking the first steps of what will be 24 hours of continuous running. I will BE one of those crazy people Jess told me about years ago. Here is about to run 9 hours, 43 minutes, and 35 seconds longer than I ever have in my life. Johnny will be there racing too, and he’s going to kick some ass which won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the ass he’s BEEN kicking. And Serge will be there, of course. The race has never known any other champion. Amazing.
It’s all a little bit terrifying and a lot bit exciting. I thought Umstead was a pretty big deal but this is a different level. There’s going to be much more people. Us Lone Rangers, as well as single loopers, and relay teams and the colorful characters of Philadelphia. I have no idea how I’m going to do or what my race strategy or any of that nonsense will be, aside from, ‘try to run really far’ and ‘don’t die’ in that order. Of course I expect to do reasonably well but to pretend to have any real idea how it will go is silly and foolish. Above all, I want to run a smart race, be competitive, and finish completely spent (that last one probably won’t be too hard to manage).
As I get ready to do this, another thought creeps into mind. Summer of 2006. I am standing on a dock next to the boathouse closest to the Art Museum, right near where the race hubbub will be taking place this weekend. It’s nighttime. I’ve spent the entire day mostly walking around the city by myself, taking in the sights. I’ve ended up over here, with a beautiful view of the river and the houses that make up boathouse row and the museum and some of the skyline and I’m by myself just thinking. For a half hour just standing there thinking and admiring the beauty of the scene I alone was privy to. I had been in a REALLY bad place, mentally and emotionally, for weeks at that point. A lot of personal and romantic upheaval. A lot of heartbreak and heartache. And it was there, on that dock, at that moment that things stopped getting worse. Life started to feel eversoslightly more ok. I was going to be ok. It was then that my fate was sealed. Tomorrow night the lights of the houses along the river will be as bright and beautiful as they were six years ago but I will no longer be alone. The journey has been worth it.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
Ramblings about races and other running, semi-running, and not-at-all-running-related nonsense from the past few weeks
I think that wins the longest title record, maybe. I haven’t really written anything here in almost two months. That recap of the 12 hour race barely counts. Before that it was a whiney ass post about how meh my training has been going. And now here comes a post jam-packed with all sorts of crap. Races! Danger! Anti-social behavior! Beer!
[Ed. note: Goddammit. I spent about two hours writing about 2,000 words on everything between the last time I updated for real for real and now. And then of course it all got bahleeted and I have no desire to re-write it all. Probably for the best. What follows is a hurried attempt at going over the more important (or at least less boring) points. As you were]
May ended, and that’s about the best thing I can say about May. It happened. I had that decent 12 hour race. Well, I had a decent 6 or 7 hours and then crashed hard, but I can’t complain about that because that was what I was trying to do. The rest of the month was decidedly eh. The goal coming out of the 12 hour was to be able to get right back into training at a fairly high level and that didn’t happen. The first week post-race I was real out of it and needed more rest than I anticipated. The second week I took more rest than I needed for no particular reason. I had a great opportunity to get some big miles in over Memorial Day weekend and just didn’t, at all. Instead I had two ok runs and a day off that I didn’t need. And that’s kind of a microcosm of the last two months. Days off that weren’t necessary, too much beer, sad attempts at a social life, pathetic and hilariously unsuccessful attempts at dating, and me being in a weird head place pretty much the whole month.
So then June happened. June was a bit like March in that I bookended it with races, but that’s kind of where the similarities end. March was easily the most successful month of my entire life, running-wise. June was only slightly better than May. I ran an 8k on the 2nd. Yes, an 8k, not an 80k. 4.97whatever miles of rolling pavement around downtown Durham. It was put on by Kim and Jason, the amazing owners of Bull City Running Company, and it was a fantastic event. I just had to run the race, my first in Durham, representing the hometown Bull City Track Club. There were A LOT of people there who I knew. The after-race party felt like a Wednesday Fullsteam gathering (and there was even free Fullsteam beer!). Oh yeah, and I ran 29:04 which was pretty much exactly what I figured I’d run considering the lack of workouts. I was able to run 34 miles after that which was probably one of the best things I did last month.
The next week, school ended and I had more time on my hands but I didn’t exactly maximize it. Instead I spent more time drinking, sitting in the recliner, watching Law & Order: SVU re-runs, more awkward socializing, and just generally feeling like I was in a funk. I did make a fun trip up to Fredericksburg to see one of my favorite people and help out at her paddling event. I spent some time relaxing up there which was nice mentally, but even then I never really felt like everything was turned off, mentally. I just can’t get out of my own way. But this is not a 13 year old girl’s diary so I’ll kind of stay away from all that, except where it directly relates to running. Or something.
After two lackluster weeks, I found myself in the middle of the month, four weeks away from running 24 hours around the Schuylkill River. The last three weeks have been some better. I spent the next week running back-to-back-to-back and then back-to-back 20 milers, interrupted by a 20 mile day Thursday that was split up because 3 miles into my run I honestly thought I was going to die. I made it a point of running in the middle of the day, call it a crash course on heat acclimation. Call it really fucking stupid. Whatever it was, it seems to have finally started working. After three weeks of running mostly at midday, I seem to be slightly more okay with running in 90+ and humid conditions. Yesterday when I went out at 1, the firehouse sign said it was an even 100 degrees. Of course, I got a break and the humidity was lower than stifling. Still, I made it 12 miles on just a handheld of water with a dash of salt (and then another three after a quick re-fuel at home). Despite feeling like I’ve maybe not trained the way I ought to have been the past few weeks, looking back from a month ago to yesterday’s run I suppose I have to admit that things have improved, and even considerably so. It’s not perfect, and it could probably be better, but I am MUCH better off than I was at the beginning of last month. Last weekend’s Finger Lakes ’50k’ (which is actually more like 33 miles) hammered that home. Despite feeling kinda blah and having a less-than-stellar run around the course the day before, I managed to break the course record by ten minutes. Of course, unfortunately Jeff Powers (last year’s 50 mile winner and a really nice guy) broke it by eleven minutes. But I accomplished the primary goal of not getting injured and got a last longer hard effort in before the big race. The Finger Lakes races have become a staple of my summer the past three years and I probably ought to write a full recap of the weekend, it certainly deserves it. Suffice it for now to say it was a decent time in one of my favorite places to be. And there was good beer (thank you Katie!)
Now there is less than one week to go before the BOMF Lone Ranger 24 hour and I’m about as ready as I could hope for. Well, that’s not true, I guess I could always hope to be MORE ready, in better shape, work in progress all that. But over the past week, the daggers in my quads from all the pounding they took on the hills upstate have gone away. The calves aren’t wound super tight either. I expect in another week, with much less running and much more resting, they will arrive in Philadelphia feeling fresh and ready to be torn to shreds yet again. I have some thoughts on the upcoming race but I also will have a lot of time on my hands this coming week so I’ll save that for later.
This was kind of boring, no? Yes, probably. I could have summed this all up and saved a bunch of time by saying that yes, I’m still alive and in the past month and a half I DID spend some time running (but not as much as I ought to have), drinking some (and definitely more than I ought to have), feeling mixes of depressed, misanthropic, frustrated, meh, lethargic, off, etc etc you get the picture. But in spite of myself it seems I have done enough to get to the precipice of yet another milestone-type step, another level deeper down the rabbit hole and I’m starting to think I might just survive this one too.
Wimbledon is on and my ADHD is kicking in so this seems like a good enough place to stop.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
This past weekend I ran the 12 hour race at Three Days at the Fair. The race is one of many races held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in northwestern NJ. There are also 72, 48, 24, and 6 hour options that start as early as Thursday morning. Last year, Phil McCarthy set the American record for 48 hours at the race and it seemed like he was coming back this year to do it again. I decided to do the race for a few reasons. It was six weeks after Umstead so hypothetically I’d have enough time to recover and see what sort of shape I was in. It was held at night (9pm Saturday to 9am Sunday) and I’ve never run through the night before so I figured it would be good to get some experience with that prior to the 24 hour races I’ll be attempting later this year. And it was in NJ, which meant I culd go home for Mother’s Day weekend and my family could actually come see me run an ultra.
This won’t be as long as some of the tomes I’ve written about other similarly long races. There’s really not THAT much to say and I don’t feel like rehashing every one of the 98 laps I completed. If you’re the kind of person who likes to read the spoilers, I ran a lot. 84.06 miles to be exact. And I won. By about 21 miles. For that, I got a cool ceramic trophy thing that I had to leave at my parents house because there was no room in my bag to fly home with. I also got pretty tired. And sore.
A slightly more elaborated version of events:
Friday night I got back to LI late-ish, after working almost 10 hours. I jogged around the neighborhood with Scott and went to bed much later than planned. Saturday was weird, I didn’t really know how to prepare for running all night. So I slept as late as I could, which turned out to be about 10:30am. I figured maybe I could nap later (never happened). Getting out the door with my family is ALWAYS an adventure and this was no different. The four of us were on the road for NJ shortly after 2 and arrive around 4-4:30. It was pretty warm at the fairgrounds and I saw only a few runners trucking away. I tried to guess which ones were doing which races based on how fresh they looked. Check in, get a really sweet jacket, head to a nearby diner around 5 for my ‘last meal’ and then Walmart for some last minute supplies (pepto and Boost, both of which would come in handy later… FORESHADOWING!!!). We got back to the fairgrounds around 7 and I just relaxed, in the car, then by the race, going to the bathroom, going over my stuff, whatever to kill some time. With about a half hour to go before the start I began getting ready in earnest, changing into my race gear, going to the bathroom, A&Ding (yes, I turned it into a verb), shoes (I was wearing a brand new pair of Brooks Green Silences, not exactly the first shoe that comes to mind when thinking about running for 12 hours but I wanted to go fast for the first few hours and I knew that was a good shoe to do that in), going over the plan with my family, etc. With three minutes to go I went over to the start area where the other dozen or so 12 hour racers were assembled. One last pee and check on my laces and I got ready to go.
At 9pm sharp, we were off and running. To fully describe how the race went, and in what context I’m evaluating it after the fact, I suppose it would be helpful to know what my goals and expectations were going into it. I was less concerned about actually running the 12 hour race than I was about hitting certain intermediate distances. What I REALLY wanted to do was run a fastish 50 mile split, and hopefully hold on for 100k. After that, I was hoping I’d have about 4 hours left and I’d just relax and do whatever I could for the remaining time, enjoying myself and experiencing what it’s like to run overnight AND be pretty wrecked (as I was sure I would be after the early push). With that in mind, I bolted off the line like I was running a marathon. Within seconds I could tell I was waaaay out ahead of everyone, and I’m sure I was getting more than a few curious and WTF looks from everyone, runners and spectators alike.
All the races are run on the same ~0.86 mile loop around part of the fairgrounds. There’s minimal elevation change (a slight incline near the start/finish and a slight decline right after, the rest is essentially flat). Most people find the prospect of running in tiny circles horrifying but I actually like it, primarily because it makes logistics simple and I didn’t need to run while holding anything. Anyway, on the first loop, I was cruising along and then I promptly got myself lost. Yes, I got lost. On a 0.86 mile, well lit loop. That’s actually probably the most impressive thing I did the entire race! I realized my folly when I looked at the Garmin and saw I had almost run a mile. With no lights or finish area or runners in sight. Whoops! Angrily I backtracked, looking for another human being or sign of where to go. Initially I couldn’t see any. Finally I saw where I had missed the turn and went the right way. I finished the first loop behind a few runners who were probably pretty surprised to see me passing them after one lap, as clearly I wasn’t going THAT fast.
There’s really not that much else to write about. For the next few hours I was cruising along right around 7:00 pace. Early on, the whole family stayed up and helped out. They’d hand me water or coconut water or a gel or whatever I asked for and pick it up on the other side of the bathrooms that we lollipopped around. It went pretty smoothly for the most part. I split about 3:15-16 for the first marathon+ and at that point I’m sure most people assumed I was an idiot who had no idea what he was doing and would blow up. Even my mom told me I was going too fast at one point. I felt pretty good, and I was moving well, and I knew it would suck later but that wasn’t the main issue. On the other hand, there IS something exhilarating and motivating about knowing that everyone is just waiting for you to explode. It’s a feeling I’ve gotten familiar with the past few months, trying to push myself to prove these hypothetical doubters wrong. It’s a racing style I know Pre would approve of. It’s some kind of fun.
Anyway, I had one bathroom trip a little before 50 miles, but I downed some Pepto and it didn’t seem to become a bigger issue like in Georgia. I think I split around 6:30 for 50 miles, a little slower than planned but it was also a little over 50 miles and I had run some bonus distance on that first lap. So, right on. A little before I got there though, I started having the familiar top of left foot, left ankle pain/soreness and that was annoying. Everything else felt pretty good but the pain was persistent without ever escalating to the point where I needed to stop. It was after 3am and I was experiencing a sort of getting tired that I don’t really think is completely attributable to running. I was getting tired like I do nowadays when sitting on the recliner watching tv at 1am on the weekends. A more full body tired. Running at night is tough. Of course, I had forgotten any 5 hour energy or other caffeine product. Oh well. I held things together pretty well through 100kish, which I hit around 8:20-8:30 (?). I think. Close enough. I had slowed but I hadn’t blown up completely. The pain in my foot/ankle had actually subsided some. People were still being very encouraging as I went by, which is a really cool aspect of races like this. Everyone is out there doing their thing and truckin away and everyone is SO encouraging and friendly and supportive. I just hope I didn’t come across as a bit of a cold jerk as all I really mustered most of the time was a thumbs up and/or a thanks. I get a little single-mindedly focused and spaced out sometimes running. Some people were actually calling out my name as I passed, which was neat, as I didn’t really recognize anyone so they either 1)knew who I was already which is cool or 2) asked about me at the start/finish. Or my mom went around telling everyone how awesome her son was, but she and my brother went to sleep in the car fairly early on so I figured that unlikely.
Dad was a freakin rockstar. He stayed up THE ENTIRE TIME, every loop having something ready for me, bearing the full brunt of my increasingly decreasing enjoyment of what I was doing and the rising level of overall surliness I was beginning to display. The last 4ish hours were… well, they happened. And that’s about all I can really say about them. I continued to move and complete laps. I had another, longer, bathroom stop and kinda cramped up a bit. I wasn’t going as fast as I had been, nor was I going as fast as I probably COULD have been, but I didn’t care. The sun came out and I was ready to be finished. I began doing some sketchy mental math to figure out the bare minimum effort I’d need to put forth to complete 80ish miles. My mom woke up and she was cheering and I felt bad that she was wasting that energy on me. Dad began asking me what I wanted on the next laps and I kept responding, “to be finished.” It wasn’t even worth a chuckle. With a little less than an hour left I told my dad I’d do two more laps to get to 80.something and then walk a lap or two and be done. That happened. And then I kinda powerwalked/jogged a lap and it wasn’t much slower than the previous few. I had about 29 minutes left and Rick, the AWESOME RD, told me three more laps. Well, balls. In my head, I didn’t really have a choice. So I picked it up a bit. And then at the end of THAT lap, two of the 72 hour runners started BOOKING! Like, FAST. And Rick told me to chase them. So I did. And wouldn’t you know it, I could still RUN. I ran the last two laps and finished with about 6:30 remaining on the clock. Mom told me to go do another and I knew that would be impossible. I was done. 84.06 miles.
I got out of my shoes and assessed the damage — swollen left ankle obviously, some blisters, some chafing, but ultimately nothing too bad. I got this really sweet ceramic trophy for winning. I met a lot of cool people at the awards and after. Sat next to Steve Tursi who also did Umstead and we talked for a bit. He was one of the ones who had been SUPER encouraging throughout the night and I told him how much I appreciated it. Melissa grabbed me before we left and we talked about how we’re doing some of the same races coming up (Finger Lakes and 20in24). It’s funny how I had JUST wrote in my last post about loneliness and meeting people at ultras and all that semi-maudlin sounding nonsense and here I go making some friends. ME! Making friends! Miracles DO happen. I’m still as socially inept and shy as I always am, but ultrarunners are a much friendlier, welcoming group than the majority of people I see in public. It does feel more and more like this is a niche I might actually be able to fit in to, at least somewhat.
I know I mentioned it already but I just have to devote a paragraph to pointing out how ABSOLUTELY AMAZING my family was in this whole endeavor (and this is not just because I know you’re going to read this mom!). It was Mother’s Day weekend and they all drove out with me to NJ and helped me run around in circles for 12 hours overnight and brought such an enthusiasm the whole time. AND mom cooked my favorite, ravioli, Sunday evening. HER day and she cooked ME my favorite meal ‘to celebrate my victory’ or something like that. Dad, who is not a young man anymore, and who routinely goes to bed earliest of the four of us, and who is capable of falling asleep milliseconds after sitting in a chair, stayed up THE ENTIRE NIGHT. And not once looked annoyed or grumpy or anything negative. He was the biggest reason I was able to have as good a race as I did. I was SO HAPPY to have them there to see me do this, much moreso than I was about how I ran or anything like that. They’ve seen me race before, but not in a way that I feel suits me, and not in anywhere near the kind of shape I’m in now. Hopefully I can continue to put on a good show for them in the next few years, give mom something bigger to brag every single person in her phone’s contact list about. Thank you family, we may all be a bit insane but we are my favorite nonetheless.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
I have, for some reason or another, not found the motivation to write about running. Really, I haven’t had the motivation to write at all recently. For that matter, I have struggled to do much of anything at all, almost constantly desiring having my feet up on the recliner, taking a snooze, maybe a beer, that sort of thing. It’s not like I feel particularly run down, at least not physically. It’s been a mental lull for a while. And I have been somewhat embarrassed about my behavior and the way “training” has been going of late so actually writing about it has not been high on my to-do list. But I started this thing to keep myself accountable, and so that years from now I could look back and shake my head at 26 year old Mark and all his follies (presumably from an older, wiser, more responsible perspective but who am I really kidding? I’ll just be older).
So what HAVE I been doing? Well, this is where things become relative. I was running on the Company Mill trail at Umstead yesterday when it sort of hit me that I’m being an idiot in my head. Or at least, possibly a trifle too hard on myself. The past two weeks I’ve run almost exactly the same: 101 miles, and a hair under 14 hours. The setup of those weeks was pretty different. Two weeks ago, I ran pretty evenly, with my longest run being 22 miles on Saturday. I also did my first beer mile, three hours after that 22, in 7:45ish. And didn’t throw up. It was a decent showing. Last week I started things off with 28 on Monday. It was hot and I was tired and pushing things a little. I probably shouldn’t be as disappointed with 28 miles right at 8:00 on very tired legs and being pretty severely dehydrated, but I was, and still sort of am. Whatever. The rest of the week was kinda weird. I had a lot of shorter runs, some of them kind of quick, despite the heat. Then a miserable long day Saturday wherein I finished up at 10pm and looked like a raisin from the rain.
Sunday was cool but not really because of the running I did. I went to the Duke Twilight meet with a local runner lady who was quite good company, maybe more on that down the road (I hope). I saw Alan Webb and Robby Andrews run the 800 and Anthony Famiglietti run the steeple. It was pretty awesome. Kind of helped salvage another otherwise meh two weeks.
I didn’t do anything on Monday, except eat a delicious cheeseburger. Yesterday I felt like some of my mojo was coming back. 18 miles at Umstead, slow but relaxed. And I didn’t hate running. In fact, originally I was going to be happy with anything around 10, but I was enjoying myself and my legs felt good so I kept on. This weekend will be the next real test, I’ll see just how recovered I am from Umstead and/or how out of shape I’ve gotten. It’ll also be the first time my family will see me run a race since I did the National Marathon three years ago. That feels like a completely different life, and in many ways, particularly running-wise, it was. So I’m excited that they’ll see me more in my element, running an ultra. And there’s that relative thing again. When I ran that marathon, I thought I was pretty awesome because I ran 3:09 and qualified for Boston. I was averaging maybe 30 or so miles/week. I was not even close to in the sort of shape I’m in now, even on a bad day. So maybe I DO need to be a little nicer myself, or at least cut myself the slightest bit of slack.
Someone on the Ultra List posted something that resonated big time with me; about feeling some sort of running ‘blues’ and being a twenty-something ultrarunner who sacrifices a lot of their social life for the sake of training and races and all that. How there is a very palpable loneliness that comes along with this sort of lifestyle, especially when you’re new to an area. I could have written something very similar. I’ve only been down here for nine months and I’ve made some very good friends but at the end of the day, I still come home to the apartment and it’s just Puck and darkness when I open the door. And Puck is awesome but a cat is not an adequate substitute for a human being, even a really adorable cat. I’ve taken some strides to overcome my myriad social phobias and hang-ups but I still often feel some sense of something lacking, a void. There’s always that letdown following a big race. Umstead was that sort of race, so part of this I know is probably normal, and part of it is just the way I am. Work in progress. Fitness is always evolving, hopefully usually improving. Likewise, mentality takes work too. Social skills require practice. Most of this is only loosely based on ultrarunning but it all seems(seemed) relevant so I figured I’d write it down. As the Ultra List thread awared me, I’m not the only one who feels like this occasionally (or usually). So it’s on to looking ahead to the next race, and the next one after, with the hope of meeting more runners who might someday turn into friends, or at least sharing some happy exhausted time post-race with some good people and filling that void for a few hours.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
As the title says, last week was a week that feels worth a recap. And one with significantly less bitching and whining and all that nonsense.
Mon – off, still tired from Sunday
Tue – 13 miles, 1:47, around Cary, down Harrison and then along Maynard for a while, just exploring
Wed – 10 miles total, ~73 minutes, 2.5 solo (19 min) and then 7.5 (54 min) with the Fullsteam run group (mostly Zane, Matt, per usual)
Thu – 9 miles, 72 minutes, Umstead bridle trail to Loblolly
Fri – 23 miles, 3:16, Duke XC loop, five 4 mile loops + one 3 mile loop at the end, water after each loop
Sat – 17 miles, 2:22, Umstead, included one course loop (1:43ish) + an extension on the Lake Crabtree singletrack
Sun – 18 miles, 2:34, Umstead, basically the same run as Saturday with different extension (on bridle path instead)
Total – 90 miles, ~12:20
So yeah, this started to actually feel like I was training again, at least by the end of the week. Which is funny because it’s really all relative. In 2010, 80 miles was the most I ran in any given week. Now ten extra miles feels like I’m starting to approach normal again. Progress. It was a nice feeling to be able to run with my friends at what felt like a normal effort at Wednesday’s run. And Friday to Sunday, running 58 miles and feeling pretty good at the end on Sunday, was a really encouraging sign. My legs actually feel better than they have been, the worrying aches have been replaced with general and expected levels of soreness.
I was in a pretty good mental place for most of Sunday’s run too, thinking about the coming weeks. As of last Saturday, I’m twelve weeks out from the Philly 24 hour race. Twelve weeks out from Umstead was a week before the 100k. I was nowhere near the sort of shape I’m in now, even if I DO feel heavy and slow — I felt much moreso then. Somewhere in the middle of the Turkey Creek section on Sunday some sort of switch flipped back into the “ON” position in my head. Recovery from Umstead was over, time to stop babying myself and being overly cautious (by my standards). Time to put my head back down and starting grinding. Twelve weeks. That’s ten weeks of A LOT of work and then two weeks to get fresh and ready. This was the last week I’ll be south of 100 miles until July. I’m actually excited to get back into the grind, to give myself less free time to waste doing stuff I will later regret or at least be annoyed with myself for attempting.
If I were the type to come up with names for things and actually write out a training schedule that I’d post on my wall with all sorts of motivational words like “Perseverance” and “Dedication” and pictures of serious looking animals or of Pre to keep me focused (which I am decidedly not), this would be the time to do it. Instead I’ll let Katie’s poster of Trogdor (and the overwhelming desire not to suck) do that for me.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
That is a question I have asked myself many times the past 2+ weeks. It has been an interesting stretch since Umstead. I know I meant to write some other thoughts and general reflections from that race, and I still intend to. But I probably won’t if I’m being honest with myself. Or I will, but they won’t be particularly relevant anymore. I’m not going to bother doing an in depth recap of the last 2+ weeks since the race because, well, that would be worthless. I ran some. 30ish miles the first week, 50ish miles last week. There were more days where I didn’t run than those where I did, or so it felt. Some of the runs felt surprisingly alright, some of them felt downright miserable. My left big toe tendon made its presence known again briefly. I still have random intermittent aches and pains. I guess, in general, I feel like I ran 100 miles in one day.
So if I wasn’t running as much, what else was I doing in order to optimally recover? Of course there was the beer. I deemed my performance worthy of cracking open the Dogfish Head Bitch’s Brew I’ve had since October. And then cracking open beer after beer after beer, virtually depleting my fairly impressive fridge supply. There were some drugs, most of them legal. There was not enough sleep, not even close. I was on spring break last week and spent the early part of it acting like it was 2007 and I was still a stupid undergrad (not implying that ALL undergrads are stupid, just that undergrad Mark circa 2006-07 was a fucking moron more often than not). I spent the second half of the week sort of attempting to recover from the beginning. And also sort of attempting to get back into some sort of regular running thing. My first run last week was 9 miles on Thursday afternoon. I hadn’t run since Saturday. That Saturday, I had felt a familiar and troubling pain on the top of my left foot. And, like the previous time late last year/early this year, I went through the cycle of freaking out that I’d given myself a stress fracture, realizing that was a dumb thing to think, further realizing it was a tendon issue, and being grumpy about it. Fortunately, just like last time, it magically went away on it’s own as the week progressed. Thursday’s run was uncomfortable but by Sunday it was a non-issue. I did my best to cram some running into the end of the week, spending my weekend at Umstead (15 on the bridle trails Saturday, 20 on the single track Sunday). I haven’t felt as bad during a run as I did Sunday afternoon in the last hourish when I was severely dehydrated, my feet hurt, and I was tired.
I don’t know where I intended to go with all this, I wrote some of it a day ago. The point, I guess, is that I haven’t been doing a whole lot of running, and I HAVE been doing a whole lot of livewrong, as Johnny would put it. I haven’t bothered to weigh myself but I’d imagine I packed on at least a few pounds during my binge. I feel pretty heavy and slow when I’ve been out running most days, especially last week. I took Monday off this week because I needed to recharge a little. Of course, I then stayed up til 2am watching the NHL playoffs and then a redbox movie. I know a lot of people, smart people who I respect, have told me not to be so hard on myself, both in general and specifically right now. Something about how I ran 100 miles and ran it reasonably well and that was only two (now two and a half) weeks ago and so OF COURSE I should still feel meh at the best and downright awful at the worst. I got a fortune cookie last night that wasn’t much of a fortune but it was pretty accurate anyway. It said something like, “You relentlessly seek perfection” or something like that. I am the world’s worst perfectionist. I haven’t exactly been living like I care about perfection (or even mediocrity for that matter), but I do. I DID care how I did at Umstead. I DO care about how I’m going to run at the races I have coming up in the next few months. And maybe, probably, I am being a bit too hard on myself when I look at the last two weeks and think that mostly I was just a lazy waste of oxygen. Maybe it was a good thing that I spent a lot of time not running or doing much of anything exercise related. The thing is, I don’t even think I’m particularly disappointed with the running aspect of everything. I accept that I wasn’t and shouldn’t have been able to just jump back into the 120+ miles/week grind. That’s fine. I guess what I’m disappointed in is how I DID choose to spend a good chunk of the last two weeks. Instead of sleeping a lot and resting and relaxing and recovering, I pushed myself more toward feeling burned out and exhausted than most of my big February weeks. And doing stupid crap that also made me go through a lot of money that I don’t really have to waste. Like I said above, I was acting and living like I was a senior in college again and that didn’t turn out so well then. Blah blah blah don’t be so hard on yourself, seriously, you’re just annoying everyone with your ridiculous self-loathing drivel. This isn’t Livejournal.
This whole entry is starting to feel much more like a personal blog than a training-focused one so I guess I should just stop. I’m not as miserable as this probably comes off. Well, sometimes I am. But there is some sunshine — THIS week has been some better. Tuesday I ran relatively pain free. Last night I was back at the Fullsteam run and cruising around Durham with some friends and feeling pretty strong and comfortable (despite the 7:20s we were clicking off, a good minute/mile faster than I’d probably run on my own). I’m resisting the urge to just run until it gets dark after work like I’ll be doing in a few weeks. I’m planning some actual long runs this weekend and feeling excited about it. My social life may be getting eversoslightly less cloudy and less lonely. I should probably stop whining so much. Heh. We’ll see. I’ve got a trail calling me right now and I wanna be done before Community starts.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
On Saturday I ran the Umstead 100 mile Endurance Run. It was my first 100 mile race ever. But to accurately and fully write a recap of this race, I need to go back some beyond four days ago. Back to last June when I went to a Baltimore Road Runners Club picnic. It was there that I talked some with Serge Arbona, mostly about the races he’d done and the ones he had coming up. For those who don’t know, Serge is one of the most accomplished ultrarunners around (and a REALLY nice guy to boot!). I was only a few weeks away from moving to North Carolina and he joked that I should come pace him at Umstead next year, as I was going to be living close by. At the time I had never run more than 31 miles but somehow a seed had been planted. Fast forward to September 7th, the day registration was opening up for this year’s race. Umstead tends to fill up very fast, like five minutes fast. I happened to have a bit of a break at work at noon when registration was set to open. I decided that I would try to register. Whether I got in or not I would take as a sign from the universe on how to proceed going forward. As luck would have it, right around 12:02pm, I was officially registered to run. At that point I had still hadn’t run an ultra since the 50k disaster in DC in November of 2009. But if I didn’t want to waste my money, I was going to run my first 100 miler in a few months.
Fast forward a bit. I ran some longer races last year, to mixed results. I got some experience and miles on my legs. I got a little fat and out of shape by the time I ran Weymouth Woods in January. Fortunately, something clicked after that race. Despite being sorta fat and out of shape I ran reasonably well and reasonably even splits and recovered quicker than I probably ought to have. I guess I made up my mind there to get my shit together and train seriously and maybe I’d be able to survive the whole ordeal.
I had some pretty good, encouraging results leading up to Umstead. But in the few down weeks leading up to the race, I was consistently more looking forward to seeing my friends and some runners that I admire than I was about actually running it. The race was more an excuse for everything else. I remember telling someone only a few days before that I was a little nervous that I wasn’t really feeling nervous or anxious at all. For once I felt like I had done everything right, or as right as I could manage making things up as I go along. By Wednesday of race week my legs felt better than they have ever felt. Ever. I was starting to get a little excited.
Thursday night Katie, my amazing crew chief, flew in from Boston. Despite having extremely limited ultra experience (as in, she crewed for me at Stone Cat and that was it), I was confident that my life was in the best hands possible. Friday morning Johnny showed up and Team Awesome was fully assembled. But the fun was just beginning. Part of why I was so excited about this race was who else was coming down to RUN it. In addition to Serge, Christian was coming down to crew/pace him. As was Dave Ploskonka, another very accomplished ultrarunner from Baltimore who I met when we both paced the 10 miler there last June and then I crewed him at Hellgate last December. Those two I knew, and look up to a great deal as both have run some incredible races and have a ton of knowledge and experience and bad-ass-ness to their credit. In addition to them, last year’s race winner, John Dennis, was running. So were a couple other guys who ran very fast times last year. And Mike Morton, who had already run 13:18 in Florida in January and almost broke the American 24 hour record last September (running 163+ miles). In short, there were A LOT of really good runners there and with a course that is entirely runnable, I was pretty excited to see what would happen.
Friday was a bit of an adventure. Dave’s car got towed in Baltimore so he was having a rough start to the weekend but DID manage to get down here in time to suffer through what was apparently not the most enthralling pre-race briefing ever. We all missed that briefing because we had to drive out to Chapel Hill and pick up Serge and Christian from a mechanic. Apparently Serge’s car was shot. We got to the park a little after 6 and I got my race bib and after Serge and Christian got their stuff out of Johnny’s trunk, the three of us headed to my pre-race pizza place, Bella Mia. Dave joined us and we had a pretty relaxing, delicious dinner. A quick trip to Target and then it was home to get things prepped and get to sleep. Only hours away from the race and I still wasn’t very keyed up. Instead Dave and I were sitting around joking about all sorts of stuff and I was feeling extremely loose and relaxed. I even managed to sleep relatively well.
4 am my alarm went off and I got up easily. Thanks to Katie’s packing the night before, all I really had to do was eat a small bowl of cereal, go to the bathroom, get dressed, and gather my belongings to get out the door. We were all in Johnny’s car and headed to the park around 5am and probably arrived around 5:30. It was drizzling a little but not obnoxiously so. It actually felt a lot like the morning of the Umstead marathon, so I took it as a good sign. I got my Brooks Pureflows on, grabbed my duffel bag and headed up the hill to the start/finish area. It was a pretty crazy scene up there. With 280-some people registered, the start area was extremely crowded with runners and volunteers and crew. I was more than a little overwhelmed and for the first time, feeling some nerves about what I was about to attempt. Instead of trying to digest the magnitude of running 100 miles, I focused on the steps I needed to take to get to the start. I got to the bathroom and applied my A&D ointment (which I FINALLY remembered to thank Dave for giving me that advice, LIFESAVER!), and got my singlet on. I found a spot in the woods to take care of some business. With about three minutes to go I was at the start line, with Johnny and Katie around me. I tied my shoes and then with about 30seconds I worked my way toward the front where I found everyone I expected – Serge, David, Mike, John, and a couple other people I didn’t immediately recognize but who looked fast. This was it. I looked around and spent a moment just enjoying the calm before things got started. I switched my headlamp on and heard them count down. GO!
The nice thing about Umstead (or the awful thing depending on your perspective) is that the 100 miler consists of eight 12.5 mile loops, all of it on the bridle trail, except for the half mile or so stretch that runs between race headquarters and the bridle trail that is run at the start and end of every loop. The bridle trail is made up of extremely well packed gravel (I described it to Johnny early in the week as ‘NCR trail with some hills’) and every step of the course is runnable. Most of the first few miles are flattish, some downhill, some uphill, nothing too intense. There’s a brief section from a little after mile 7 to a little after mile 9 that has some short, steepish ups and downs, and that’s it. I don’t know exactly how much I’ve run the course but I was certain that no one in the field had run more miles on it than I have in the past few months. While knowing what to expect isn’t as important as being in good shape, it definitely was a mental help to know what was coming and when. Doing my first 100 miler, the less surprises, the better as far as I was concerned.
So the race. Yes. We started by running up the park road that led out of camp. Because it was dark I couldn’t quite make out who was who but someone I figured correctly to be Morton darted out quickly ahead, followed closely by Serge and John Dennis. I was briefly up there and I know I said something to Dave before he pulled away too. By the time we hit the bridle trail I was probably in 6th and I was also already sick of my hat which I took off and hung on the gate. Another one or two guys went by me on the airport spur out and back. It also started raining a little harder, enough that as I passed the gate, I ran over and got my hat off it and put it back on, this time ON TOP of my headlamp. The next forty or so minutes were pretty uneventful. I got passed by a few more guys. I think by the time I hit mile 3, I was in 8th or 9th. I had no idea how fast I was running; I was wearing my regular old watch because the rain would mess with the garmin (in retrospect, I think this might have been a good thing). All I knew was I was running what felt pretty relaxed (and if I was being honest with myself, maybe a touch faster than planned). I also felt pretty flat which was initially disappointing. My legs didn’t feel that peppy, and I felt a little sleepy actually. I decided it wasn’t worth worrying about and that when the sun came up I’d probably feel better. As I ran down corkscrew hill, someone I recognized as Jonathan Savage ran by me and as we made our way up the hill on the other side of the bridge, I went by him again. I could say lights waaaaay up ahead already and thought to myself that I should mention to Katie when I got back that somebody was probably gonna crash and burn later.
About 6 miles in, it got light enough to take my headlamp off, FINALLY. I hate that thing. I left it at the aid station just before 7 miles and was off. The first time through the Turkey Creek hills was uneventful. I saw three guys who were waaaay ahead earlier in the loop already starting to come back to me. This whole stretch I was constantly reminding myself NOT to push it on the hills, just relax and take them easy as it was VERY early. By the time I got back out onto Graylyn Road and the lovely mile-ish downhill stretch, I might have gone by another guy. On Graylyn I caught up to another runner who I think was Troy Shellhamer (who I knew had run almost under 16 last year and was probably looking to run even faster this year). We chatted very briefly about how fast some of the guys went out and he mentioned there was some really good runners this year and advised me not to get sucked up in going out too fast with them. It was a good reminder. After that I pulled away a little and continued on. I think the first time I noticed a mile marker was at mile 10 and I noticed I was right around 8:00 pace. Whoa. Not sustainable. BUT! I had exchanged some emails with Ray K about a week earlier and he advised me to go out right about how I was, shoot for a 6:40-7 hour 50 mile split and then try not to die too hard. Maybe not the BEST strategy for someone for their first 100 miler, but I wasn’t really interested in trying to ‘just finish’, I wanted to see how fast I could actually go. I promised myself that I was going to actually race this one. So things were either going to go awesomely, or they were going to get really ugly and be fucking miserable for a long, long time. I didn’t want any in between. I didn’t want mediocre.
Coming back in at the end of loop one, I felt fine. I had wanted to get done with the first loop and feel like I hadn’t really done anything yet and that was pretty much what happened. I had my nutrition plan working (coconut water, honey stinger chews and assorted gels every half hourish, supplement with water and salt at aid stations) so far. I saw a few guys coming out on their second loops as I was coming down the hill at the end of my first. Said hi to Dave who was probably a half mile ahead, and then met Katie and Johnny at the start/finish. I gave them my singlet and hat (both were too wet and would only get wetter and I worried about chafing). By my watch, the first loop took 1:41:47, a little fast but well within reason.
I re-stocked my gels, took a fresh handheld, and was off on number two in seventh place. There were a couple guys pretty close to me on the way in as I was going out. The second lap was fairly uneventful. The sun had come up but it was very overcast and still sort of drizzling. It actually felt really good to me and I kept hoping it would stay like this all day. Around 2 miles in, I came up on 6th place, who I recognized as Darian. He had also run the Triple Lakes 40 miler back in October. We chatted for a few miles before I pulled away around mile 4 (he went on to have a stellar first 100, running 18:25 for 10th place!). And that was really the only excitement for this lap. I couldn’t really see anyone else ahead of me, I was still running about the same effort, and was incredibly relaxed and calm. I think it was this lap (or maybe the third) that I saw Jessica, a teacher at my school who also runs and does Ironmans, at the far aid station. That was a nice surprise. As I came back in at the end of the lap, I noticed how much further along the three leaders, Morton, Dennis, and Serge, were, easily already a half hourish up on me. I said hi to Dave in about the same spot as I was coming in. I asked Johnny and Katie to move down to the bottom of the hill so I could tell them what I wanted coming in and grab it going back out. I think after this loop I had some candied ginger. My stomach wasn’t bothering me (and thankfully really didn’t all day) but I kept taking a couple pieces each lap as a preventative measure. Second lap took 1:40:12, and that wasn’t surprising because I had more pep now that it was daylight.
The third lap was my fastest somehow, but again, it was pretty even. I had no interest in trying to chase down the leaders. I was sticking to the plan and it was still very early (which makes me chuckle to write, I had already run a marathon, at essentially the same pace as my very first one four years ago, and it was EARLY). I DID realize a few miles in that I didn’t have enough gels to stick to my fueling plan, because I should have taken one when I came in. I didn’t really sweat it, just knew I needed to eat something more at the far aid station. I got in and out of that, forcing down some pretzels because it sounded like a good idea, and a banana (so I could tell Katie I was eating solid foods). I tried to stretch the gels and chews I had as far as they’d go on this lap and I relaxed on the hilly section. Despite that taking it easy, I came upon the guy in 4th place (I say 4th because unbeknownst to me, I had passed Dave at the aid station, he had been in the bathroom with stomach issues that unfortunately ended up torpedoing his race). At this point we were starting to encounter runners on their second laps too, but I recognized the guy in the green shorts as having been way ahead earlier. I was actually a little surprised because someone earlier had specifically mentioned that green shorts was fast and I also remembered right near the start hearing him talking with someone else that he was 2nd (?) at Uwharrie 40 this year. As I slowly went by up one of the early steep inclines I had a brief moment where I thought maybe I’ve actually been running a really stupid race all along because, really, do I have any business being this far up and passing people like that? It was a brief moment, because then I shut myself the hell up and continued on, at what felt almost like dawdling pace.
The rest of the loop was the same as the previous three. I noticed my legs felt eversoslightly heavier or tighter or something, but not alarmingly so. When I came down the hill I quickly told the Katie that I needed more of everything. Double it. I hit my watch at 1:39:29 and headed out again. I chugged a Boost shake here, on Katie’s orders. It was a good idea, the calories definitely helped. I set off loaded up with two gels and two bags of honey stinger chews. They informed me that the only three ahead of me were the three leaders. I was incredulous, but didn’t bother staying around arguing. Right around 4.5 miles in, I heard footsteps coming quickly. One of the guys I had been seeing fairly close behind every lap had caught up and he was looking really strong. I’d later learn his name was Jim and he was from Albany. He mentioned running together for a little, to break up the monotony. I welcomed it, but also worried that he looked A LOT better and stronger than me right then and I didn’t want to burn myself out keeping up. The next few miles to the aid station were pretty pleasant as the conversation was a welcome distraction. I mentioned that it was my first 100 and he had previously done Vermont and when he asked what time I was shooting for I honestly had no idea anymore how to answer. I was nearly 44 miles in and if I kept up the pace, we’d break the previous course record. I was honest and said I figured I’d like to hang on enough to break 15 at this point and he had similar designs. Only about 6 hours in, we had ourselves a long day ahead still.
We got into the aid station together. I started dipping a boiled potato in salt and eating it which seemed like a good idea. He stopped for the bathroom and I continued on, figuring he’d catch up pretty quickly (I was right). We ran together for a good bit of the back section hills before he gradually pulled ahead. I was right that he must have been feeling better than me at that point and it would have been stupid trying to chase him down not even halfway into the race. I came in at just about 1:45 for a 6:46 50 mile split, which is a HALF HOUR PR (unless one counts the 7:00 50ish mile split at the 12 hour, in which case it’s only a 14 minute PR). I was really happy that I had managed to perfectly execute Ray K’s advice to go out between 6:40-7:00 for the first 50. The second part of that advice was essentially to hold on for dear life and try not to blow up TOO much. I was definitely starting to get a little tired but not as badly as I imagined. Johnny also surprised me by jumping in to pace me here, which was definitely welcome.
Johnny was great to run with. I was quickly starting to not enjoy running. This probably had a lot to do with the rain stopping and the sun actually coming out. Things warmed up quickly and the humidity seemed to linger. My comfort level quickly dropped. He kept reminding me to drink, and made sure I was eating. I wasn’t very talkative but that was alright. He also reminded me to relax into the hills, and not get too excited yet. I started cramping some, particularly my calves and some weird tendon-y thing on the front of my ankle (where it connects to the top of my foot). When we came into the aid station I was wondering how far back I had fallen from Jim. But as we left, I ran into him (he had changed from a neon green to a black New Balance singlet) and we ran together a little bit before he again pulled away. I don’t recall anything much else extraordinary from this loop except I was starting to wish I could just call it a day after the loop and get credit for a 50 mile finish. Of course, neither Johnny nor Katie would allow that to happen. Neither would I but still, it’s nice to know your friends won’t let you back out of the stupid thing you started. We came in around 1:46 (~8:32 total), so even though I felt a good deal worse, I had managed not to slow considerably and Johnny deserves a lot of that credit.
Three laps to go. The mental math had started in earnest. If I ran 2:00 laps the rest of the way, I’d still have a 14:32 finish which would be pretty good, and if I slowed even more I could probably hold it together to break 15. Johnny went out with me on the 6th lap too. We had gained on Jim on the back half of the fifth lap, he seemed to be struggling with the heat some too. I noticed as we ran along Reedy Creek trail that we had gained a considerable distance on the guys I assumed were immediately behind me, standings-wise. I also noticed that I hadn’t seen Serge or John Dennis as I was coming in from the last lap, wondering if they had slowed some. Morton, however, was continuing to hammer it. As for my lap, there were a few moments where I had to walk and shake out a cramp. Johnny was good about not letting me take too much time, only a few seconds. It was now legit hot out and I was going through A LOT more fluids. Aside from the main aid station before mile 7, there were a few unmanned water stops set up every few miles and I was now stopping to take a cup or two of water there. And I refilled my bottle at least once, possibly twice. I also stopped to pee around mile 3, the third time I had done so during the race. I was happy that while my urine was yellow, it was not dangerously neon or anything. Another buoying thought: while I was definitely gassy, burping and farting quite a bit, my stomach was cooperating and there were no warning signs that I was in imminent bathroom emergency territory. And that was mainly the story of lap 6. At some point I went past Jim (maybe it was at the aid station?) and didn’t seem him for the rest of the lap. It was hot and miserable, possibly the least fun of the whole race. The whole time I knew even when I finished, I’d still have almost a marathon left. As we came to the end, Johnny mentioned that he was stopping after this one. Apparently he was feeling kind of off too. If HE’S feeling off after TWO laps, shit, what’s gonna happen to me?! was probably a thought I had around then. We finished the lap in 1:54ish, I was in about a minute before Jim but needed a little time at the aid station and then I came back down the hill and saw my cousins and their kids. A big old group there just for me. According to Katie, this was the only time I smiled all race. It’s kind of blurry, I just remember coming down the hill and stopping. My cousin Bryan asked me how I was feeling. I replied honestly, “I’ve felt better.” Just a tiny understatement. My 3 year old cousin Greg was holding the bag with the orange slices and I remember grabbing into the bag for some while muttering to myself, out loud, “Fuck, fucking fuck, fuck fuck fucking fuck—“ And then an “oh shit” when I realized what I was doing within earshot of my 3 and 6 year old cousins. Someone told me that the only two ahead of me were Morton and Serge, that Dennis had dropped after 5 laps for some reason. That put me in 3rd. On top of that, apparently Serge looked like he was starting to really struggle and I could maybe catch him. What. The. Fuck!? Was this real life? Was all this actually happening? And on that note, I chugged a 5 hour energy and was off again.
I remember immediately thinking to myself that I could now run 10 minute miles and still break 15. And also reminding myself that a 15:30 or so would not be anything to be embarrassed about. The first two miles, the airport spur, took about twenty minutes (including the stop for resupply). It was still hot and miserable and I was not happy. This was definitely the time where I thought to myself how I didn’t just never want to run another ultra again, I never wanted to RUN again, period. I just wanted to sit on my ass and do nothing. Jim had put some distance on me again and I was content to just hang on. I came down corkscrew hill and saw Josh and Shannon and maybe said something or maybe just grunted at them at that point. Right after the bridge after mile 4, I saw a group of people, a family, standing by where the trail forks and you could go right over to the lake instead of up the hill that the course goes. They were cheering and then, as I got closer, I recognized the tall blonde guy to be my friend Zane! He had said he was going to come cheer at some point and there he was, with his family in tow. And what’s awesomer, he jumped in and started running with me. PERFECT timing. He asked me how I was doing to which I responded flatly, ‘bad.’ Everything sucked. But we trudged up the incline and he talked and it helped take my mind off things for a bit. n
At the top of the incline the trail levels out and turns right onto Turkey Creek. There was an unmanned water station here, near the water fountains. As we were coming to it, I see a tall, shirtless runner in compression shorts. Christian. Again… what. The. Fuck. All I could manage was, “Christian?!” He looked at me a little downcast and mentioned that Serge was done. That he had never seen someone throw up quite that much. I looked up the trail a few more feet and there was Serge, looking much more miserable than I was feeling. My heart sunk. We were 80+ miles into the race and he was one of the runners I’ve looked up to, the guy who was a big reason why I was even running the race (with a goal of not letting him lap me) and I was about to go past him. It sucked, and I think I managed to say something that wasn’t totally stupid (or maybe it WAS totally stupid, but the intention was good) and Zane and I carried on. We came into the aid station and that’s where Zane said he was gonna turn around and run back to his family. I thanked him for getting me through that rough spell. Truth be told, I WAS feeling some better. As I started to leave the aid station, Jim’s girlfriend (who if I were giving out crew awards obviously Katie and Johnny would be #1, but she would have to be #2, or even 1b. She was a one woman operation and kept driving back and forth from the start/finish out to the second aid station where you have to hike in all day. That one’s a keeper fo sho. I digress) had a granola bar in her hand and looked at me and said, I should just give this to you to give to Jim. I saw him about a hundred meters up ahead and laughed and told her there was no guarantee I’d catch up to him. So we both ran up at him and I told her he’s in second place. She argued with me that he’s in 3rd but I knew I was right this time. She got him the granola bar and we headed onto the trail together. I told him that we were 2 and 3 now, that I had just passed Serge and he must have too without realizing it. This was officially crazytown in my head. Morton was going to win and break the course record, unless a snake got him or something (and even then I wouldn’t bet against him). Everyone else was basically in a race for second place. And by everyone else, I meant Jim and I because it appeared that everyone else had also succumbed to something or other that slowed them down.
Jim pulled ahead on the hills again and I stopped to refill my bottle and walk off another cramp. I was pleased in general that my feet still felt pretty ok. I knew the left little toe had the same blood blister that always occurs after a few hours running. My left ankle was also a little sore but nothing felt broken. I chuckled when I hit 85 miles right about 12 hours. Again. This time though, I HAD to keep running for another 15 miles. I reasoned that even 5 mph would bring me home in 15 hours now, and that thought was slightly mollifying. When I came out to Graylyn Rd, I realized I really had to pee. Rather than stop completely and risk really tightening up this time, I noted that no one else was around so I pulled down the front of my shorts and peed while walking forward. I was actually quite impressed with myself. At that point I also decided that if I had to take a crap, I would just crap my pants and worry about it later. It’s amazing how 12 hours of running and a bit of competitive fire can alter your idea of what is acceptable.
I finally finished up the lap in 1:56ish, right about 12:22 on the clock. I was thrilled to meet one of my primary goals – despite the fact that Morton was about to completely obliterate the course record by running a 13:11, he didn’t lap me! Looking at the results, it appears Jim and I were the only people who DIDN’T get lapped. Sicknasty. One of my only regrets from the race is not being able to tell Mike how bad ass he was and how inspiring it was to see him out there every loop, hauling ass. It was a good reminder that as bad as I felt running as hard as I was, someone was out there running faster and probably didn’t feel all that fantastic either. Digression over, I knew this last lap was make or break. Katie argued with me to take a headlamp. I told her no and stormed off. Jim had left about three minutes before me and really what choice did I have but to try to chase him down for 2nd? Unfortunately the first two miles of the lap were slow again. It was a struggle, a crampy struggle. I just made myself continue moving forward, as slow as necessary, but constantly moving forward. Right after the second mile, things started improving some. I kept muttering to myself, “empty the goddamn tank” and it seemed to be a good reminder.
I kept passing people on earlier laps and some of them would cheer and ask me if this was my last. I honestly didn’t have the energy to formulate recognizable words so I would just give thumbs up and grunt. I sincerely hoped my grunting didn’t come off as rude or anything, I just couldn’t think of words, and if I could, I wasn’t able to get them out. ‘URRNNGHHH’ was about the best I could do. I started making deals with myself, the evil sort I am known to make on training runs – just run to the first water station and you can powerwalk for a minute. Nope, haha, you have to keep running! Just run to the top of the mile 5 hill and then you can back off a moment. HAHA NO! YOU CAN’T! Any sort of downhill or flat I consciously tried to pick up the pace. I couldn’t see Jim up ahead and the thought that I could back off and still comfortably come in 3rd and under 15 started tracking across my mind but I had promised to keep the pedal down and that’s what I did. I was in and out of the far aid station in maybe 30 seconds, faster than the previous two laps. I hit the back hills as hard as I could, running every step this time, imagining all the miles and miles I ran over this very loop the past few months, all that work was for this day, this moment, there was no make-up race. I went right by the water station this time, my bottle nearing empty but adrenaline had me thinking I was fine to make it to the finish at this point. I grabbed the headlamp I had left there on the first lap. 3.5 miles to go. Out onto Graylyn. I ran that downhill as hard as I could, it felt like an all-out sprint, I was redlining. 2.5 miles to go. I hit the uphill hard too. I knew I just had this and cemetery hill and that short one to the finish left. I turned at the top. Maybe 2 miles to go less. 1.5. Cemetery hill. My mind was almost blank. I had run this very loop dozens and dozens of times and occasionally, the times when I was running it late in the evening, I’d imagine it was the last lap of the race and how that would feel. And here I was, ACTUALLY DOING IT! I crested cemetery hill and knew I HAD to put everything I had left into the final mile. I KNEW I wasn’t just going to break 15 hours, I was going to SMASH it. I was going to break 14:30! All the times I tried to imagine what it would be like had failed so miserably it turns out. My mind was just thinking push push PUSHPUSHPUSHGODDAMMITGOPUSHNOWGOOOOOOOOO! I was thinking about Johnny and Katie and how they had been out there all day long and how they’d probably be very happy to see me. I figured I was probably going to come up just short of Jim because if he had ANYTHING left, he was likely doing the same thing I was right now. And I was ok with that. And then I came up on Dave. He was coming in at the end of his sixth loop. He hadn’t been having a fun day but I guess seeing me pepped him up some and he started running with me. It was awesome to have someone to push me that last stretch. We were probably running close to 7:00 miles. It felt like I was flying. Finally, the turn off the trail onto the park road. Then into camp. Now it was just a steep downhill and get up the hill to the finish. People were clapping and cheering. I could SEE the red neon of the finish banner through the trees. Bottom of the hill. I yelled Johnny’s name because it was dark and I wanted them to know I was the one coming in now. I bounded up those steps. I don’t actually remember feeling them at all. I got to the top, only a step or two more. I remember throwing my water bottle down in some surge of emotion. I ran through the finish. 14 hours, 16 minutes, 25 seconds later, I was done. I had finished my first 100 miler. I was 3rd place.
The immediate moments post-race are kind of a surreal dream sequence to me. I know I gave Johnny a big bear hug. And Katie. And Katie got my finisher’s buckle for me. I know I wandered over to the aid station and people were asking me what I needed. I think I grabbed a Gatorade. Someone asked what lap I was on. Katie interjected, HE’S DONE! It felt so good to hear that. Holy shit. Then it hit me. I had done it. I had taken my expectations, which were by most accounts on the ambitious side for someone running his first 100 miler, and I had obliterated them. I ambled toward the cabin and then I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably for a few moments. Johnny took a picture of me around this time that I think perfectly captures the moment, hopefully I can get it up here soon. I thanked the two of them profusely Without them, there’s no way I would have accomplished what I did.
Going into this race, I kept mentioning that I was more excited to see my friends and be around the race atmosphere. Of course once I got out on the course, I also wanted to do well. Sometimes you put in the hard work and sacrifice and suffer and still something happens and you have a bad race. And other times, everything, EVERYTHING comes together and you run one of the best races of your life. I was very fortunate that at Umstead, for my first 100 mile race, the latter happened. This recap is entirely too long as it is, so I will cut it here, at the end of my race; a logical place as any for stopping. I have a bunch more thoughts on everything, and pictures, and random musings as I am want to ramble about. I’ll get to all that later, separately. I’m still sort of decompressing and recovering and getting my mind around things.
Til next time… RUN HAPPY everyone!