"If you start to feel good during an ultra,
don't worry, you'll get over it."
RACE CHOICESAfter completing the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs 50-miler last summer and then running across the Grand Canyon in October, I had decided that it was time to make the leap and tackle a 100-mile run. The sport of ultra-running is growing rapidly and there's a plethora of races to choose from. You can run mountains, you can run deserts, you can run trails, you can run roads, you can run loops, you can run point-to-point, etc. In December, Angie and I started looking for a fun race, in an interesting location, and perhaps something easier than climbing Mt. Everest for my first 100-miler. It's not quite as simple as signing up for your local 5K fun run. Most of these races aren't near me. Most of them would require travel, child care, special gear, etc.
I made a list of what I wanted:
- A Western States qualifier. If I finish this 100-mile adventure, I want to throw my hat in for the most famous race of the ultra-running community.
- I wanted my friend and fellow ultra-runner, Mark, to be my pacer. I know he's willing to travel, but I wanted to limit his expenses.
- I wanted something relatively flat. I say relatively, because let's all be honest...100 miles of hills or 100 miles of flatness...is still........100 MILES.
- I wanted a cool belt buckle, finisher's medal and swag. Seriously.....we all run races for vanity reasons. Why can't an ultra be done for the same reason?
- A race with easy access for my wife/crew to get me what I needed throughout the race.
- I wanted a race known for it's planning and community.
I still have never been one for following training plans. I just really like to run. But, for last year's 50-miler, I followed Hal Koerner's plan and when I got to the start line, I was well prepared. When I finished, I wasn't a broken man. I knew 100 miles would take more and I immediately went back to my Hal Koerner book and printed off the 100-mile training plan:
|Hal Koerner's 100-mile training plan|
TRAINING NOTESI'd be lying if I said I followed Hal's plan to a 'T'. Life gets in the way. Family always comes first. The important point of the plan is to get in the weekend back-to-back long runs. I would say I got 90% of those runs in. I never let the weather stop me from getting my runs in.
I would say that training went exceptional for me:
- Week #5 -- Instead of the weekend 15/15, I raced a 50K relay by myself (10 loops, 5K/loop). I placed 2nd to a very well-known ultra-runner, beat all the relay teams, and had my personal best time (4:49:45).
- Week #13 -- Instead of a 30-mile run, I ran 15miles on sand roads in the sandhills of Nebraska followed by racing a 5K (placed 4th).
- Week #16 -- I flew up to Michigan to meet Mark and we ran 100 miles over the course of 3-4 days on the bluffs along Lake Michigan.
|Titan 50K Relay finished in 4:49:45 PR.|
One weekend, my pacer, Jody and I ran what was supposed to be a 17-mile run on an early Saturday morning. We started out well enough, but the sun came up and we both were sweating and dying. I told Jody if we made it to mile 7, we could turn around and get 14 miles and feel good about the day. Well, when we got there, I forced Jody to go 1.5 miles further before turning around. We got our 17 miles that day. We walked and we struggled, but we did it. I didn't know if Jody hated me for it, but I felt like we conquered something that Saturday morning.
RACE WEEKENDThe summer flew by and we found ourselves driving 12 hours to Hell Creek Campground in Hell, Michigan before we knew it. When I say 'we', I mean my wife, youngest daughter, and I. But, I also mean Jody & his wife Linda. It was a total surprise but early in the summer, they told us they would join us for Run Woodstock. This meant we had familiar faces joining us for a road trip and that I would have a pacer! I'll have more to say on Jody & Linda later.
We arrived to the start of a pretty dreary weekend. The forecast shifted by the hour, but one thing seemed certain......like the original Woodstock......we were going to get rained on. We quickly put up our tent in a prime location and moved our gear out of the rain.
Over the course of the next day, we would see floods of runners with tents & campers fill Hell Creek Ranch Campground. The vibe continued to grow. Tie dye everywhere! Music at all hours! Smiles on everyone's faces. The energy from the running community was astounding. Random people would just introduce themselves. We would talk incessantly about our past ultra experiences -- good and bad.
|Can't wait to cross this line....|
|Jimmy from the Mad Dog Run Club|
|Woodstock without a VW Bus? I think not.|
RACE DAYMost ultras start at incredibly early hours (usually pre-6AM). Hallucination 100 was different. Race start time was 4PM. We would run 6 loops of 16.7 miles per loop. We signed our final waiver at noon. Anxiety caused me to get dressed by 2PM and then just sit and wait.
|Mark is always smiling!|
Mandatory pre-race briefing at 3PM was short and sweet. Finally, at 3:50, Lemon James performed a rendition of Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner and it was awesome. Twelve weeks of pre-training, twenty weeks of training, countless hours of planning and packing and we were finally here....the START LINE.
|Mark and I are off!|
|Myself, Mark and Nazar|
We settled in nicely as the race started and we just talked. It was warm and humid, but nothing oppressive. Our pace was gentle but efficient. The course was soft dirt and sand under the cover of the trees. Approximately five miles of each loop would be on crushed limestone trails and/or gravel roads. We marched our way to Grace (Aid Station #1, 4 mile point of each loop). I had been warned by my wife/crew chief that I needed to stay up on my hydration and caloric intake. I wanted to drink my 22oz bottle of water/electrolyte mix down every 4 miles (each aid station). At Grace, I grabbed a water refill, a PB&J sandwich and a slice of watermelon. Like someone pointed out later...."Russell...always eating..":
|Grace Aid station, Loop 1|
Mark had to use the restroom and we both had the understanding that this race was for ourselves. We weren't going to run together unless by happenstance. I was ready and I left Grace. I would not see Mark again for 12+ hours. After Grace, we hit the gravel road for about 2 miles and I was determined to keep my pace on the flat roads and limestone trails at a good clip to offset the bad miles. We turned from the road onto single-track trails once again and headed into the forest to find our farthest aid station, Rickie.
Two miles later, we reached Rickie. Another PB&J, another slice of watermelon and another water refill and I was out. I was determined to not waste any time at aid stations. The next stop would be a loop back to Grace....another 4 miles. Again, it was about 2 miles of trail and 2miles of road. There was nothing unusual about it or even particularly hard. I plugged away and put the miles behind me.
A 2nd stop at Grace with yet another PB&J, another slice of watermelon and another water refill and off I went. I had never seen this course before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. To this point (12miles) it was easy and flat...maybe even downhill? That question was quickly answered. The next 4 miles would be climbing back to the start finish. I remember my watch beeping to let me know we'd clicked another mile off and I looked down to see that it was mile #13. I thought to myself, "Huh, we just ran a half marathon. I'm not even remotely close to tired." I think that was the first time it hit me that I could do this. If 13 miles was so incredibly easy.....then 100 should be obtainable, right?
I had two goals for this race:
- Finish under 24 hours. This is somewhat a benchmark for 100 miles ultras. According to the year prior's results, this would land me in the top 25%. Ambitious goal? Sure. Doable? Absolutely.
- Finish the damn thing.
I climbed the rolling hills up and out of the forest to the sounds of hippie music and people cheering. I picked up the pace just slightly and cruised thru loop #1 at 3:15. This was slightly shocking because I thought it might have been too fast, but I felt AMAZING. And, it banked me 45 minutes on my goal time.
|Loop #1 done!|
I visited my crew at our tent. Loop #2 would start in the sunlight but quickly give way to the darkness for the following 12 hours. I refilled my electrolyte mix, replenished my pack with granola bars, and grabbed my headlamps. I hurriedly left the start/finish feeling great about my first 17 miles.
I made the return to Grace without using my headlamp. Another PB&J, watermelon slice, and water refill and I headed down the gravel road. This was the first place I put my headlamp on. I had it charged full and I set it on it's very lowest setting so as to conserve battery.
I made the 4-mile trek to Rickie with no problems but darkness had finally fallen in its entirety. There was a quarter moon, so we weren't going to get any light from it and besides, it was buried beneath the clouds. PB&J, watermelon & water and I was out of Rickie.
After leaving Rickie, it became obvious just how dark it was. IT. WAS. DARK. My headlamp provided just enough light to see my next footfall. This was somewhat a blessing because 100% of my attention was on the trail in front of me and not on any aches or pains that might be arising. It was constant focus. A quick stop at Grace, the same refills of food/water, and off I headed to climb back to the start/finish.
The loop flew by and I crossed the start/finish at 7 hours even for my 34-mile split. This was wonderful news! I had banked an hour now on my goal time and I was still fresh. I grabbed the usual PB&J, watermelon, pickles and water refill and visited my crew.
I changed shorts after loop #2 because I'm a sweaty bastard and it had to be done. We refilled my snacks and electrolytes. I was feeling wonderful and expressing that to my crew. I had told them that I could do 50 miles on my own and I wouldn't need Jody's pacing assistance until Loop #4 and possibly #6.
|Refilling electrolytes in the dark|
I reached Grace and followed my refill routine. I stepped away from Grace and onto the gravel road and the first sprinkle of rain appeared in my headlamp. Frogs jumped across the road and trail so frequently that by the end of the race, the amount of roadkill/carnage from runners meeting frogs was astounding. By the time I reached the trail, just 2 miles later, the downpour began. It poured. And it poured. And it poured. It was still warm out, so the rain was a relief to the senses. Except that now, it was even harder to see with my headlamp on low.
The rest of loop #3 was fairly uneventful. The rain didn't stop. It didn't even lighten up. I cruised thru the start/finish at 11hours for 51 miles. This is a PR for me! I know I can go faster for 50 miles, but sometimes the course or the goal at hand dictates your time/pace.
Loop #4 is where Jody would join me. Jody had never paced an ultra before, but I was sure of his ability to navigate 17 miles of trail. His company was what I wanted more than anything. By this point of the race, people were dropping due to the rain and we were getting spread apart from each other. It was a lot of lonely miles. I had prepared Jody for this with a set of guidelines for pacing with me, so we were both on the same page. Feel free to read them at your leisure, but the important part is Jody was instructed to keep me moving and not let me give up:
|Pacing...more than you think|
|Jody and I ... ready for loop #4|
This is where I need to break and thank Jody & Linda. Jody trudged thru 17 awful miles of rain, mud, downpour, bugs, etc with me and didn't complain one bit. We tripped, I swore. We both got drenched in the middle of a forest half a day from home where the only respite would be a wet tent. I knew Jody could go two laps with me that night and I was looking forward to taking him out for loop #6 with me. I cannot ever repay his effort. I'm so proud of Jody. And Linda, she didn't even get to run. Instead, she got to stay up all night awaiting the return of some idiot who thought it'd be a good idea to try to run 100 miles thru the pouring rain in the middle of a forest just so she could watch him change socks, stink up the joint and leave again. Angie could not have done the crewing job she did without Linda's help. From little things like refilling food, to bigger things like words of encouragement, it was great to have her along. The running community is amazing because of people like Jody & Linda. My unwavering appreciation for their efforts will last an eternity.
Jody and I finished loop #4 almost right at 15 hours for 68 miles. I had a goal of getting thru 4 loops during the darkness and we had accomplished that. Unfortunately, the final couple miles of loop #4 is when I think things began to unravel. The chaffing on my inner thighs was painful. I had tripped 3-4 times during the night. I didn't fall, but each trip brought me to a walk cursing my feet and shaking off some pain of stubbing something.
At the start/finish, we took extra time on this stop. I was still a full hour ahead of my goal pace and there were problems to be taken care of. I changed shorts and shirt.....AGAIN. Not that it did much good because the rain was still pouring down upon us. We applied more bodyglide and Vaseline to the chaffed areas. My main concern was my feet. They were so water logged that they were white, wrinkly and felt like they were about to split. Angie took the lead and removed my shoes & socks. She dried my feet with a towel. She re-socked me. I knew it would get tougher from here and we put extra soups and pickles in me. Amazingly, my legs still felt very fresh. I was tired, but I certainly wasn't exhausted. The Navy seals have a rule of 40%. When you think you are done, and totally exhausted, your body is actually only 40% done. This is what I kept remembering. I still had plenty in the tank.....even though my looks might speak differently:
I headed out onto loop #5 by myself. With hindsight, this was probably not a good idea. A 2nd pacer would have gone a long ways. I got onto the trail and had to pee.
So, this is a story I wasn't sure I'd tell too many people, but when I do, they think it's funny, so I'm sharing it here. It's NSFW (Not Safe For Work) and probably not safe for children.
WARNING START: NEXT SECTION IS ABOUT MAN PARTS....SCROLL TO WARNING END IF YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT.
So, one of my problems in ultras is my penis rubs on the insides of my shorts. It doesn't chafe, but after hours of rubbing it feels like I have to pee. ALL. THE. TIME. After one race, I sat on the toilet for two hours but produced nothing because it FELT like I had to pee, but nothing comes of it. This time around, we looked up some answer to this problem on ultra-running websites and several people mentioned just putting a piece of medical tape over the tip. So, at the beginning of loop #4, with Linda looking away, I put a piece of athletic tape over the tip. Yeah, you might have caught the problem already....athletic tape != medical tape. So, 1/4-mile into loop #5, I stop to pee. I attempt to pull back the athletic tape and it's stuck. I mean....STUCK. I pull it halfway, just enough to pee, and I'm crying in pain. I pee. But, I'm sure as hell not putting this back on! But, it has to come off! So, I begin to peel. OH. EM. GEE. Does that hurt. I stop. There I am, in the pouring rain, alongside a trail in the middle of nowhere, yanking athletic tape off my penis and crying while other runners pass me by. It was not a proud moment to say the very least. I decide to man up and just jerk it off. 1...2...3...JERK! It comes about halfway off. OUUUUUCCHH!!!! From there, I slowly peel it off, cursing everything under the sun. Some lessons are learned the hard way, and this one was learned the very, very hard way. I will find an answer to this very unique problem of mine, but until then, I definitely will NOT be using athletic tape anywhere near my man parts.
So, with my bathroom break aside, I begin to run and realize I just can't. My right ankle is in pain and the chaffing is incredible. I have no hair left on the insides of my legs and it's red...very red. I grab my cell phone from my bag and call Angie. I'm crying. I tell her I'm done. She tells me to get to Grace and Jody will meet me with more Vaseline and/or baby diaper cream.
I walk the next 2.5miles into Grace. I plop onto the chair and I'm crying with my head buried. I had trained so hard. My legs still felt great! But, my ankle....oh, my ankle. And that goddamn chaffing. Jody arrived and I told him that I was done. He handed me the cream, got me to eat a few things, and told me I wasn't stopping. I left Grace and walked about 40ft before I sat down on the side of the road and the tears really, really began to flow. I told Jody I was done....repeatedly. Jody did exactly as I had asked and told me that no I wasn't and I wasn't allowed to stop. We sat for probably 20-30minutes. Finally, I wasn't getting anywhere with quitting, so I started to trudge. Jody walked alongside me. I only remember looking down and seeing his sandals. He was going to walk with me in sandals if he had to. I finally found the strength to say "meet me at Rickie".
Jody went back to his car and I trudged/walked the next four miles to Rickie. I tried to run a bit during those miles, I really did. And, my pace was good...11-12 min/mile. But, dammit if my ankle didn't have a striking pain with every single step and draw me right back to a walk. My walk pace slowed terribly to nearly 20-25min/mile.
I walked into Rickie and immediately asked for the lady in charge. I quit.
Twenty-three miles short of my goal, I quit. Seventy-seven miles ... three MARATHONS..... and twenty hours into the biggest athletic event of my life, I quit.
To her credit, she asked if I was sure, and the last four miles had solidified my answer. I quit. She recorded my dreaded 'DNF' (Did Not Finish) and I walked out of the aid station back to the road where Jody would meet me and take me back to the start/finish.
I'd like to sound tough because I don't know when the ankle rolled, but Jody thinks (and I agree) it was probably one of those trip-ups around mile 65 that did it and I managed another half marathon on a bum ankle, but the fact is...I quit. Maybe it was the episode with the tape and private parts that finally broke the emotional barrier of pain I'd been holding back?
I was bummed because my legs were still fine. Seventy-seven miles into my day and my legs were still FINE. I have so much faith in my training now because I could have gone another 77 miles on those legs that day....but not on that grapefruit sized ankle.
WRAP UPI didn't complete what I started, but I do have a few positive takeaways:
- My 50-mile PR.
- My 100K PR.
- A strengthened friendship with Jody & Linda.
- A new appreciation for the lengths to which my wife will go for me and my dreams.
- I'm in the very best shape of my life at age 37, and there's something to be said for that in today's day and age.
- I have friends in Michigan and across the country who will go the distance with me if I just ask.
I did get to see my friend, Mark, complete his first 100-mile run in 24:15:00. I could not be more proud. I am in awe of Mark and his accomplishments. There's a reason everyone loves Mark and you know it from the moment you first talk to him.
|Marks 100-Mile FINISH|
Even on the long drive back home, Angie and I were already talking about when I can do my next 100-mile attempt. I love this sport because the chance for failure is so high, but the rewards of finishing are so much higher. As I finish this race report up nearly 4 days later, I know I made the right decision in quitting to avoid further injury, but that doesn't mean it still doesn't hurt. I can patch pride up, though. I came away knowing that my legs can handle the 100-mile distance. This is not the end.....not by a LONG shot. This is just another stepping stone, life lesson and adventure. And, one helluva good time!
Two mottos come to mind from Hallucination 100:
"Someone once told me not to bite off more than I could chew. I said I'd rather choke on greatness than nibble on mediocrity."
"Life isn't defined by how many times you get knocked down. It's defined by how many times you get back up."
I'm getting back up....starting right now today .....right after one last Candy Corn Oreo .....
--Camelbak Mini-MULE 1.5L Hydration pack(this is actually a kids hydration pack, but I can stuff so much into it!)
--Altra Lone Peak 3.0 shoes
--Garmin Fenix 3 watch
--Shaklee Performance Hydration drink/mix provided by Carol Adams
--Outdoor Research Sun Runner cap
--Sony HDRAS20/B action camera
--Copious amounts of Bodyglide
--Ridiculous number of PB&Js