My First 100 Miler Win!
So I have known for quite some time that I am not a really strong racer, mentally. I am, however, very focused in my training and my legs are very strong. This race was the first full test of a new training/racing plan and it worked like a charm. For the last few months I was consistently doing ~100 mile weeks but instead of 12-15 miles everyday, I was doing two 30-40+ mile -days- per week. While these long days (sometimes including 50 milers) were tough in the beginning, I recovered quicker and quicker each time I did them. My goal for this race was to train hard and show up to the race start and not ‘think’ too much about the race and simply let muscle memory do the lions share of the work. My brain was more of an observer, thinking only of what do to do the next time I hit my aid station. When I try hard and focus on my ‘racing’ I end up blowing up and doing quite poorly. This race was very different, but in a good way.
The LONG weekend started with a poor night of sleeping Thursday night and getting up at 5:30 am to head to the Detroit area to pick up my running buddy, Ryan, who was making the trip with me. Turns out, he didn’t sleep well either that night. We had a long uneventful drive to the far side of Pennsylvania and and got to Carmen’s house about 4:30 in the afternoon. Carmen is an old high school friend of mine who I reconnected with on facebook a few years ago. She has followed my running lately and been very supportive. When she found out I was going to be in town for the race, she was happy to host us for dinner. The homemade chicken marsala was delish, complemented by pleasant dinner conversation. It was awesome to see her again, and I was glad I was able to. We still had an hour into town to our hotel for that night so we left around 7:00 pm and stopped at a local grocery store to pick up fresh fruit and last minute supplies. Earlier in the week I had gone to the store and bought standard ultra food (candy, salty snacks, etc) not knowing what I would want to eat during the race. I decided to buy lots of different kinds of food so I would have plenty to choose from during the race. 100 milers are unique in that your ‘tastes’ generally vary during your all-day runs. By 8:45 pm Friday, I was in bed and slept harder than I ever have the night before a race.
This was the 4th running of the Philly 100 and this is very much a ‘fat ass’ race. You must support yourself completely so no aid, no entry fee, no shirt, no bib, no nothing. Ryan and I arrived at the start/finish about 45 minutes before the start and got a parking spot about 150 meters off the loop. The back of Misty’s (new to her) Prius would be our aid station for the day. Ryan and I threw all our food, drink, and gear in the back and with each loop the mess got a little worse. We tried to be organized so it was not that bad, even at the end of the day. The race course itself was an 8.4 mile loop that we would be doing 12 times for a grand total of 100.8 miles. The race director wasn’t much of one, but more like the caretaker of the website. In fact, she gave the pre-race briefing (standard instructions) and told us to email her our times when we were done. She then went home, having finished her run the night before. Since it was a fat ass race, some people started early, and some started late. As such, I had to wait a few days to get official results.
The race started just before sunrise and I think we all started the course in the ‘clockwise’ direction. Since it was 12 mile loops (each 8.4 miles long) and we were sort of on our own, we were free to change directions as we pleased after each loop. I varied up a bit ending up running clockwise 5 times and counter-clockwise 7 times. The first half of the first loop was very gentle and laid back. I knew I wanted to start very easy, so I started running with Kristin, a nice woman from Maryland. We chatted for several miles and her husband, Michael, caught up to us about halfway through the loop. He stopped a few times for ‘personal’ reasons involving the digestive system and would catch back up. We swapped standard running stories and she told me that her first 100 mile race was Western States, which is like saying your first marathon was Boston. I told her I was seriously jealous and she acknowledged that most people she told were as well. We got back to the cars after our first loop in about 1:16, which was just fine for me. A quick stop to eat something small and we headed out for a second loop together. Again, her husband joined us on and off, and about halfway through my second loop she dropped back and I continued on with Michael. He was just as nice as his wife and so the conversation was equally pleasant. We ended lap 2 in a net time of 2:37 (lap 2 being 1:21) together and started lap 3 still chatting. About halfway through that lap he stopped again for a short time and I said goodbye and started off on the rest of my trek running by myself, a condition that would remain with me the rest of the day.
I ran lap 3 in about 1:18 having picked up the pace when I became alone, but not too much for a net time of 3:55, after a total of just over 25 miles. Obviously, nothing too speedy but that was ok. My last 100 mile race I did the first 25 miles in 3:30 and ended in a total time of over 21 hours. This race was not about running fast, it was about running consistent. You have heard the phrase ‘this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon’ to talk about some long range project. Well, this ain’t a marathon, it’s roughly 4 times that. A lot can change in a day of running, so starting slow and saving your strength for later is always smart. Too bad I rarely do it, until now.
I should note here, that lap times I give all have a little error bar on them as I was at my car 2-4 minutes each lap and I was inconsistent as to exactly when I looked at my watch. I was paying attention enough to know I was running each loop at almost even pace and that’s all I cared about. Normally I spend very little time at aid stations but by necessity I had to take more time at this race, and it seemed to have helped. My brains sole purpose this day was to be a good coach, especially when I got to my aid station. WIth each and every stop, I would open the back hatch of the car and start the drill. Do I need any pills? Where am I chaffing? Slap some lotion on there. Time to change shoes? Re-fill handheld with more rocket fuel. Drink an entire bottle of Avitae, a great caffeinated water . Grab a handful of fruit and either scarf it down quick (blueberries) or grab a handful for the next loop (grapes). Update facebook as appropriate and get back out on the course.
With 25% of the race over and my initial adrenaline gone, I was finally getting into the long-haul groove of the middle half of the race, by far the most un-exciting. Just staying sane and moving was the biggest requirements. The course loop is very popular amongst the locals, the route going along the river where several major colleges and universities crew teams practice and compete. All day long I saw rowers as singles and groups as large as 8 out on the river rowing away. There were bikers and runners by the hundreds during the course of the day as well. With sunny skies and temps between 50 and 65 all day, why not. The only real weather ‘problem’ would be the wind which was 15-20 mph at its worst. During this middle portion I ran a majority of the loops counterclockwise as I thought that was the best route to combat the wind based on the course. With so many bystanders and us racers not having bibs, it was hard to tell who was running the ultra and who was just a local doing their daily run. Eventually after you have seen the same person for 5+ hours, they were more recognizable. I am sure it was easier to recognize me in my dyed hair. Friendly banter was exchanged whenever we saw one another because that is just how ultrarunners roll.
Two friends, Kino and Steven from New York City came down to help out and setup an aid station for the ultra runners. They went all out and got a wide variety of standard ultra fare and gave it to any ultra runner who wanted it. They were about 2 miles away from the turn, and so I used them mostly for a water only station, but occasionally had some salty food. They were so nice to do that and even though they left before the race was over, they left the remaining food for us late night runners. Awesome friends they are!
I hit the halfway point in 8 hours flat. I have had 50 mile splits of under 8 hours a few times, but the second half is usually my downfall, succumbing to a death march everytime. Today, however, I felt good and stable, my body giving no complaints at all. Muscle memory was doing its job, remembering exactly how it feels to run 50 miles in a day and not giving much of a fuss. Sure, I had some small blisters and ‘hot spots’ that required attention. I changed my shoes every 25 miles, but never any major issues of consequence. Halfway done, no problem.
Loops 7-9 were all in put down in the 1:25 range. After mile 50 I was doing short walks breaks of 300-400m in length. By lap 9 there were exactly 4 of them per loop, about every 2 miles. The only tough part was getting back ‘into’ running after each walk break. Once you get going it’s not that bad, but those first few meters are tough on the brain, so I chose to deliberately think about something else every time I was restarting and it worked. After loop 8 I finally pulled out my iPod and started the techno. Always the plan (techno when getting tired and sun going down) and it had the desired effect, with lap 9 finished 7 minutes FASTER than lap 8. That’s some good tunage.
I hit the mile 75 mark (lap 9) in 12:25. 1:30 loops from here on out was my goal and just hold it together and keep doing the same thing. I had been very good about taking my electrolyte pills, amino acid pills, and tylenol on a regular basis which all helped body and soul. The night before Beast of Burden 100 I heard some bad things about taking ibuprofen during ultras and it scared me. Apparently tylenol works as good and is not as bad for your health. Of course, the amount of tylenol I was taking was high and dangerous outside of running an ultra. I won’t tell you how many I took, but know it was more than would be considered healthy. To that accusation, I would counter running 100 miles in one day is not exact ‘healthy’ either.
After 10 laps, finally it was starting to feel like real work. I rolled back to the car after loop 84 miles in 13:58. The sun was almost down so I grabbed my headlamp. One of the things I learned from Beast of Burden 100 was that I need to have lots of light when I am running after the sun sets. I even had a second light that I was going to wear around my waist but I did not grab it. The path we were running on was well lit and I could have safely ran without my one headlamp on most of the way, but I kept it on to keep my brain reminded of the fact that I was running and it was not bedtime. My brain did a good job all day, never focusing on the pain or soreness I felt. If it had been permitted to ‘listen’ to such internal monologue it would have send notice for me to walk the rest of the way because that is what has happened in the other five 100 milers I have run. Today however, my brain was only allowed to listen and record notes, it was not allowed to send direction to my legs. My brain listened to the pain and suffering, but chose to ignore it. It kept good tabs on my needs regarding fueling and such and that worked perfect. I tried to use my brain as a disembodied personal coach who did not quite understand what I was feeling and had little sympathy for me anyways but listened to my needs and provided for me when I needed it. I know it sounds weird, but just trust me this mental ‘game’ I played is what got me under 17 and without that game, I would have run much slower.
I rolled the second-to-last-lap in 1:32 (15:30 elapsed) which meant I had a possibility of running sub 17 for the entire race. My (not publicized beforehand) goal was to break 19, so I knew I could totally sluff off (walk? crawl?) the last lap and still beat my goal. Knowing that conditions were not going to be this perfect for a probably a few races, I decided to just try to hang on and if 17 came, then great, if not, no problem. I felt so awesome and the fact that I was not at death-march mode by mile 91 was amazing in and of itself. I went back and forth about trying to break 17 about 1000 times that last loop, which helped me go fast ‘enough’ I guess. At about 16:56 I passed Ryan near the Art Museum which is only maybe 600m from the finish. He was walking his last lap and taking a break to take pictures with the Rocky statue. He saw me coming and screamed ‘Four minutes! Move!’ which of course I was doing to the best of my ability already, but I thought I had a little more buffer than I did. I swear I looked at my watch 8 times in the last 3 minutes, trying to judge whether or not I was gonna make it. The last 200m were me running as fast as I could (after 100 miles) which felt like a wicked sprint. As I crossed the line in the sidewalk I started my watch I started at 6 am that morning and it read 16:59:59. I stared at it for a long while not believing I hit it that close.
Since it was a low key FA race, there were only a few people who were crewing for other runners there. Nothing exciting, no cheering, no medal, no nothing except me basking in happiness. Everything had come together for a great finish. I wandered back to my car and made the last phone call I would ever make with that phone to my lovely wife telling her about my race. Ryan came by a few minutes later and he told me he was done too, stopping after 67.2 miles. He had walked the last two laps to kill time waiting for me to finish. We chatted for a few minutes with Michael who was at his car for a quick break. I don’t remember how many more laps he had, but I think it was two. We put on some more clothes and got ready to head out as our hotel was 35 minutes away. As we were getting ready to leave I realized I needed to drink some more water and Ryan had poured out our only remaining non caffeinated water. We still some some Avitae water, but I didn’t need caffeine now at the end, I wanted to sleep. Ryan offered me some ginger ale reminding me that might help my stomach which was just a little upset. Cool, so we got in the car and started the drive. It took less than 5 minutes for my body to reject the ginger ale. What is sad is that I knew it would beforehand if I had thought for a second. I have consumed carbonated beverages immediately following marathons and been horribly sick just minutes later. Sure enough, driving at 70 mph down the turnpike and I had to pull over to get out of the car to puke. I feared a cop would see me and pull over and the ensuing questions would be ‘weird’. Normally guys puking on the side of the road at 11:30pm on Saturday are not sober. I got back in the car and made it another 15 minutes before I had to get out and do it again, eventually my ejections turning into dry heaves, and those hurt.
We finally got near the hotel and Ryan was hungry so we stopped at a Wendy’s and grabbed some food and it was here that I realized I didn’t know where my phone was. We used Ryan’s to call mine and no sound came from anywhere in the car. We looked and found nothing. Ryan asked ‘Did you leave it on top of the car at the race?’ and I stopped and say ‘Crap’. Yup, that’s exactly what happened. I dropped Ryan off and took his phone (to help me find mine) and headed back onto the turnpike to return to the race start, a 35 minute drive back. Remember, I have been up for a few hours before now, and this drive sucked. I got back to where the car had been parked and found nothing. There was a small group of people nearby (recently finished runners and their crew) and asked them, and nothing. I followed the road that I covered when we first left and found nothing. After 20 minutes or so I gave up the ghost and went back to the hotel, yes another 35 minute drive. I finally got back to the hotel and tried to get some sleep. My legs were in hyper-recovery mode so my body was burning the midnight oil doing all that cool physiology muscle recovery stuff and enough of my brain was needed to be be active that I couldn’t sleep much at all. About 6:30 Sunday morning I got up and took a shower [Yes, I slept in my nasty race clothes that I had been wearing all day long, but I did not care, they weren’t my sheets ] then Ryan and I went down for the hotel breakfast which was un-exciting.
We packed up our stuff and started our long long road trip back to Michigan, stopping 4 times for me to get more caffeine in me. Ryan drove a little while so I could get an hour or so long nap. I ended up pulling into my driveway at about 7:30 Sunday night and I was amazed how well my legs were. They were only a little worse off than they are after a hard marathon. It only took me a few days after this race for my legs to effectively recover. The 50 mile training days paid off at all levels of this weekend, including recovery. I will walk for a few days, get some easy eliptical time, but I expect next week I will be back to pseudo-normal training schedule.
So, here is the take home message which is probably only useful for me. I give you
How to be successful in Hundo’s if your name is Mark Ott
- Train hard. The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.
- During ultras, you really only need to eat fresh fruit. Get lots, including some variety and pre-package in ziploc bags if you can. Grapes and blueberries were good on the stomach, but the raspberries were not so good. Pineapple and green apple seem to also be stable.
- Rocket fuel works. Gatorade/carbo-pro/electrolyte powder combination worked well. You still need to drink plenty of water. I drank 16 oz of rocket fuel and another 20 oz of water every loop, the temp never got above 65 and my pee was still a dark yellow. Drink more.
- Caffeinated water (Avitae!) worked great, caffeine tabs also helped.
- Regular supplies of Tylenol and amino acid tablets and additional electrolyte pills kept the brain content.