I’ll start with the facts of the story as I know them:
- 16:26.42 to complete the 100 mile course at Rocky Raccoon 2015
- 18th place overall, 8th male in the USATF Trail Championship race
- Best 100 miler I’ve raced yet.
- Course is five twenty mile loops on rolling, rooty, soft trails. It starts in the dark at 6am. There were 404 people registered for the race last I checked.
- Weather was in 50’s, humidity didn’t seem to be a factor, it was overcast most of the day, with an occasional breeze and light precipitation.
- I wore a Garmin 920 with heart rate monitor. It lasted the entire event, though it beeped “Low Battery” with three miles to go. I hoped we would both hold on and thankfully we both made it.
- I wore Hoka Rapa Nui shoes for the first 43 miles and switched to Nike Elite road shoes for the final 57.
- Wore a Salomon S-Lab 5L for a 12.5 section mile of each loop and for all of the final loop. I ran with an UD waist belt and a soft bottle for the other sections.
- I used Tailwind and Powergel as my primary fuel. I tried some potatoes with salt that I had prepared the night before. I never actually utilized a single aid station for any aid.
- I pooped three times and peed close to ten times on my first two loops. Maybe it was the lentil soup and cabbage salad from the night before? Glad to get it all cleared out early in the race.
- Julie was my most excellent crew chief and our friend Eric Schneider came out for the second year in a row. Both were instrumental in my success.
- My goal for the race was to run a complete race, and to finish feeling like I managed the distance as well as I was capable of with what I had available on race day. This has eluded me so far in 100 milers.
- Julie paced me the final lap and I listened to music on lap five. USATF rules said both were prohibited but many of the front runners were disregarding these rules and the USATF rep made it pretty clear that it wasn’t an issue. I tried to hold out but by lap five, it was survival.
First loop felt conservative and relaxed. My split was right around my split from last year but it felt easier.
Second loop was where I took my big step forward in ultra running and where I learned my valuable lesson of the day. Running still felt easy and miles were never much faster than eight minute miles. However, my heart rate was consistently around 150, which for me isn’t usually indicative of a totally easy run. I am usually in the mid-160’s for a tempo effort and in the 130’s to 140’s for easy runs. So I slowed down. I trusted the data and let a couple guys get away. I kept monitoring my heart rate and consistently made an effort to keep it in the low 140’s. I’d smile to myself and celebrate when it’d dip into the 130’s. I wasn’t losing a ton of time overall doing this and after the fact, realizing that I may have lost twelve to fifteen minutes by altering my pace at this point in the race pales in comparison to what happens when the wheels really fall off in a race and 16 minute miles become a challenge.
Lap three I changed shoes. My Hokas were feeling too narrow and my feet were aching as a result. I used the bathroom again and splashed cold water on my head and face. I was feeling strong and in control of my race. I got caught by a guy shortly thereafter. He was moving well and quite a bit faster than me. It was at this point that I think I made my big error of the race. I went with him.
The amazing thing that happened at mile 44 when I decided to stick with him and eventually pass him back was that switching from low nine minute miles and back into the low eights and high sevens felt great. My legs were strong and fresh despite 44 miles. My heart went back up to the low 150’s but I felt fine. In fact, I began feeling better and better. I began passing people and getting comments from spectators about how I was looking like one of the strongest runners out there.
Lap four was a continuation of lap three. I caught Liza Howard, the second female, and moved into the top ten overall. But by the end of lap four things quickly began to unravel. It wasn’t a slow unraveling, or else I simply missed the signs. On mile 77, after 33 miles of moving up in the race and feeling strong, the train came off the tracks. I lay down on the side of the trail. My vision was off as it appeared as if the sky above me was liquid, and the trees above flowing in a unique movement. It wasn’t how they were supposed to look and I knew I was in trouble. I gave myself five minutes to lay there before walking/hobbling the final three miles of loop four.
I came into the aid station and we all knew it was now damage control time. I lay down for more than ten minutes as Eric massaged my sore quads and lower calves. I drank a bunch of water. I took more Ibuprofen. We decided to have Julie pace me and I would also listen to music. We left with headlamps into the fading daylight looking to lose as little time as possible with a machine that had been pushed too hard too soon for too long.
I had no desire to run at this point. Everything about running sucked for most of this lap. It never felt good anymore, only pushing. And pushing only equated to 12 minute miles. It was a drastic change. Julie kept us moving and we ran more than half the final lap. I whined and whimpered but I kept going.
It was such a relief to finish. I didn’t hang around long after that as I was cold, and broken down. I was a wreck. Julie and Eric took good care of me and after a quick shower and some warm food, I began a night of restless, achy sleep.
Looking back, the major lesson I learned is that if I run really really easy, I don’t lose a ton of time, but the energy I save as a result is huge. My mistake was that I wasn’t patient long enough. Had I kept the focus on lower heart rate for lap three and then started picking it up in lap four, I feel like the finish would have felt much more satisfying and been significantly better.
I’m proud of my effort and with my progress as a 100 mile racer. I still have room to grow and I’m encouraged that I’ll do better still. I have a great support team and I have the drive to figure out this challenging distance. Thank you all for the kind words, the support, the emails and tweets. You made me feel like a little celebrity, and I can’t help but love the attention and encouragement. Western States is my next opportunity at the 100 mile distance and while my body has absolutely no desire at the moment to run 100 miles, I anticipate that I’ll be back training within a week, thinking about how I’ll do better next time.
And we finish off with some pictures by Julie and Eric: