2/16 overall (28 starters)
After the Burning River 100 (‘BR’), was looking for a new challenge, knowing that I was now a bonifide 100 mile racer. It didn’t take me long to find the Beast of Burden Winter 100. The website includes the statement:
Yeah, we know you can run 100 miles. You can run it through the hills of the highest mountains and through the heat of the sun in the desert valleys, but can you run it in the heart of winter? Through inches or feet of snow?
Priding itself as totally crappy race conditions, it delivered. Big time.
Preparation started in the fall, soon after BR as I knew I needed more time on my feet. 100+ mile weeks became a staple of my life. In October of 2010 I set a new 1-month record of 430+ miles (later broken in Jan 2011 with 451 miles) and stumbled upon a 100 mile race in Oklahoma, so I ran the Mother Road 100 literally as just another 100 mile ‘practice’ run for The Beast. Yes, I just said ‘Practice’ and ‘100 mile’ in the same sentence. I stopped shaving completely on Jan 1 and grew the most facial hair I have ever had in my life in preparation, yeah, I was gunning for this one.
A little over a year ago I became friends with another Michigan Ultra runner, Ryan Miller. We met for the first time the night before BR and have become great running friends. Sadly, he did not finish BR (he had to bail at mile 81) and he someday hopes to redeem himself and finish a 100 mile race. Last fall I helped crew for him running a trail 50K, even pacing him for the last few miles. For payback, he agreed to roadtrip with me to New York and be my crew and even pace me for the last 25 miles. He did an AWESOME job, always having my stuff ready at each aid station (The longest I spent at any of the 15 aid stations was maybe 4 minutes, and that was because I had to change shoes and socks.) including a new ‘set’ of long sleeve running shirts. Having run as many races as I have, I had plenty of shirts to spare. He was paying attention to how many calories I had gotten (almost no solid food, still) and upped the strength of my Carbopro/nuun tablet concoction that was keeping me moving. He did awesome, and you should hire him as a professional ultra crew member
About 3 weeks before the race, we found out that Valmir Nunes was going to be making the trip to the United Staes to take on the Beast. Valmir is a world class ultrarunner from Brazil and owns several course RECORDS including the Badwater 135, which is considered the toughest foot race on the planet. Ok so yes, he lives in Brazil and had never seen snow before this trip, he was still a Beast in his own right long before he showed up here. I never planned on beating him. I don’t deserve to be mention in the same sentence as him. The fact that 75 miles into the race I was only 25 minutes behind him is a miracle. He has been running for 20+ years. Me? Umm, not so much. I’m just a punk from Michigan.
2010 was the inaugural BoB race and they got 11 inches the night before. Yeah, this is touted (proudly) as one of the toughest 100 milers in the country, and boy did it deliver. Let me first say that 98+% of my steps were in snow, between 4 and 8 inches and there was never stable footing to be had. Imagine running in 1-2 inches of mud for 100 miles. Yup, it sucked that bad.
Forecast low of 25, high of 31 with 25-30 mph winds. Actual temperatures were a high of 25, low of 19 with windchills in the low teens. Oh, and it started snowing and the wind picked up again at about 2am. I am getting ahead of myself…
Ryan and I left Friday morning from Michigan, crossed through to my favorite foreign country on our way to New York. Lockport is a small town on the Erie Canal and was the location of our 4x out and back loops course. With one mid-way-ish stop in Gasport,NY and a turnaround at Middleport,NY and wind coming right down the canal on the return trip. Well that’s what you would think, but the weather has a way of fooling you.
Loop1 out (miles 0-12.5) time: 2:04
The Brazilian took the lead about 0.5 mile in, and I tramped through the first part with last years winner and a 100 mile first-timer named Ted. The three of us stuck together as a loose knit group for about 10 miles, chit chatting occasionally tromping through 6-8 inches of powder snow. It took me 2:05 to run the first 12.5 miles. That is exactly a 10:00/min mile and I was in second place. That should speak volumes as to the conditions of the track.
Loop 1 back (miles 12.5-25) time: 2:04
When I got to the turn-around I was pleasantly surprised I was only a few minutes behind the leader, a distance that I would maintain for the first 60ish miles of the race. With the out and back loops, it’s easy to see exactly the distance between you and your competitors. I was never really gunning for the win, but did want that second place finish. My return trip was exactly the same, 2:04, which was interesting because I was running into the 25-30 mph wind, and I am not that aerodynamic.
I had fashioned a Boston Marathon style plastic wrap for my three sets of shoes, but the first pair I was wearing must have had a few holes because I had to change my shoes at mile 25 because my socks and feet had gotten wet (and hence cold) which was earlier than I had originally wanted. In the end, I was fine as the other two pairs I went through did their job.
Loop 2 out (miles 25-37.5) time: 2:10
I had hoped that now with many more people having tromped over the course that it would start to be packed down, but to no avail. There was no ‘preferred’ path really, so runners were not really along the same path, and there were several different tracks. After the mid-point aid station (mile 32ish), I took my first walk break, just long enough to comfortably drink my chicken broth. As with all my other ultras, solid food just doesn’t sit well, it never has. The only thing that is solid I can handle is the occasional banana, that’s about it. I was drinking my calories all day.
Loop 2 back (miles 37.5-50) time: 2:18
My gosh, that 30 mph head wind is brutal. This loop gave me first white out, a gust of wind blowing snow up so I could not see where I was going. More footsteps in the snow, yes, but 10 minutes after they are made, they are filled in with blowing snow. The only footsteps I could really see were those of Valmir, the leader, which was good news meaning I was still close. The sun started to set as I was coming back into the start/finish for my 50 mile split (8:30 ish) and the last ~2 miles the wind actually dropped to a light breeze. I knew that this was just a short lull in the weather pattern, but I tried to enjoy it. When I tried to turn on my head lamp, there was nothing. I must have bumped the switch at some point during my drive there because I had put in new batteries just a few days before. That could have been a bad omen.
Loop 3 out (miles 50-62.5) time: 2:22
Quick costume change and grabbing Ryan’s headlamp and I was back out again, with the calm wind again at my back. My walking breaks were still only right after aid stations while drinking soup or broth. Ryan saw that I was not eating anything so he started spiking my carbo-pro/nuun drinks with even more calories. My legs were not that sore yet (and would actually never get awful) but I was getting tired. I had not slept that well for the two weeks beforehand because of a nasty cold that turned into a sinus infection. That and the nerves of the impending doom that was this race just made it hard to sleep. That would be my undoing here and is something I have to work on before my next big race.
Loop 3 back (miles 62.5-75) time: 2:30
The wind now returned to the ~15 mph range, it was time to head back. Ugh. Walk breaks became a little more frequent and I was just trying to get back because I knew I was going to pick up Ryan as a pacer at mile 75. As with Burning River and Mother Road, when I walked I was still moving fast. The leader was now about 25 minutes in front of me, but he is an elite ultrarunner. I was (and always) gunning for 2nd place. That sounds weird, but come on. This was beyond David and Goliath. I had to just keep moving. Relentless Forward Motion. I need that tattooed somewhere on my body…
Loop 4 out (miles 75-87.5) time: 2:47
As Ryan was running back to the car to grab some last minute item before he started his 25 mile run with me, the race director walked with me a little while as I started out on my final lap. His words were of genuine pride and encouragement. It was a really cool thing. By this point I was so tired, I have given up any hope of any more real running and stuck with high arm power walking. Ryan actually could not keep up walking by only himself, and so he was doing a slow jog behind my powerwalk. I was extremely tired and wanted to keep off my mind of my current situation so Ryan and I talked about all sorts of stuff, some topics that only seem to come up when I am on really long runs with people. You know things you wouldn’t tell your mother or your wife. Ever. There is some unwritten code of the ultrarunner, what happens on the long run stays on the long run. As we passed the halfway mark on the out stretch, the weather changed to our advantage, or so we thought. The wind changed directions so that now the wind was in our face on the OUT route. I thought that was awesome because that would mean that the wind would be at our back for the last 12.5 miles back to the finish. Hah, cruel weather. About 2 miles out from the turn, the projected evening snow started to fall, and as we entered the aid station, the wind turned around again. Oh yeah, and it picked back up to 15-20 mph. And the temperature dropped now to below 20 degrees, the worst conditions of the entire race.
Loop 4, back (miles 87.5-100) time: 3:20
19 degrees. 20 mph head wind. Snow falling. 2:30am. Exhaustion. Walk. Slow. Hallucinations. Just finish. Why am I here? Whose stupid idea was this? You can rest when you’re dead. Stay out of snow drifts. Ryan: “Are you OK?” Mark: “No”. I vaguely remember thanking the middle aid station (which I stopped at a total of 8 times during the race) volunteers and telling them I was very glad that I was not going to be seeing them again anytime soon. Those last 12.5 miles took over 3.5 hours. Valmir slowed too, but not as much as me, but I chalk that up to experience.
Then I got to the finish line warming tent, there was the winner still resting. We got some pictures and the race director talked with me some more and the significance of the event finally started to set in. This course was designed to be incredibly brutal. Valmir Nunes, who can do a 13 hour 100 mile race took 18 hours to complete it. People were (according to the race director) ‘dropping like flies’ from the race. I told the RD that of the 100 races I had run in the last 5.5 years that this was the hardest course I have ever run, by far. It was flat yes, but on unstable snow all damn day. The race director smiled very broadly and said he was very glad to hear that. You can tell he wants this race to have an aura of really freaking hard, and boy did that happen this time. He mentioned he wanted to have a course that made “elite runners cry”.
I had trained hard for this race, growing out my facial hair, 120 mile weeks, waking up at 3:30 am to do 15 miles in 5 degree weather. It made a huge difference. I knew I could survive the cold, the wind, the snow. Had I not done that race-specific training, I would have dropped at mile 50. I think this race could very well get the same ‘street cred’ as some other nasty races, including Leadville and Badwater.
With every race I gain more knowledge. Here I learned I can survive 100 miles drinking all my calories. I drank some Heed electrolyte drink (fructose = BAD) which gave me that familiar upset stomach. CarboPro and Nuun electrolyte tabs can get me through an entire race. Chicken broth and maybe the occasional banana. Each 100 miler I have run, I finish very well, place wise, but I walk the last 15+ miles. However, I don’t usually take a walk break before mile 30+. Look at splits of any major race and almost EVERYONE slows down, even the top people. Look at Valmir, he did the first 3 laps in just over 4 hours each, but the last loop took him 6. What slows me down at the end? This time it wasn’t my legs, they were actually not incredibly sore. I think I was just tired. How do I work on that? More of my 2-a-days (two long runs in one day, one before completed before 6 am, the second starting after 11pm)? Sleep a lot more the week or so before the race? I don’t know.
I am by no means an elite ultra runner, but for the first time in my life, I believe I just might have a shot at becoming one. My next major race (after 5 marathons this spting) is the 2011 USATF 100 mile championship in late July which gives me five months to prepare. Time to get moving. Relentless. Forward. Motion.