Badwater takes place in Death Valley National Park, starting at the Badwater Basin, 282’ below sea level, and finishes at the Portals of Mt. Whitney at 8,360’. You must trek on foot 135 miles in extreme temperatures, with 14,600’ of cumulative elevation gain, and 6,100’ of cumulative descent down steep grades. The record time is 21 hours 56 minutes although there is a 48-hour time limit to complete the race. The race begins on a Monday and divided up into three waves; 8:00 p.m., 9:30 p.m., and 11:00 p.m. The fastest of the field goes in the third wave and it’s intentionally designed this way as the faster runners will ultimately catch up with the first two waves throughout the race. Everyone runs through the night and some runners might see three sunsets and two sunrises before they complete the 135-mile journey.
Conquering Badwater is an achievement that requires great courage, skill, and strength. The athletes that toe the start line are willing to face their fears and often times come away with something more than they’ve ever imagined, which is what I believe attracts many to return to this race. After you witness the race your mind changes and as more time goes by you begin to think why not me. I realize we’re not all wired the same, but often times that is the way I think. I feel we are capable of doing so much more than our minds allow us to believe we can. I go into these races seeing the best of me, performing at a high level which hopefully leads to an overall good experience. I work really hard and put in the necessary training to setup myself for the most success. It doesn’t always workout that way but I’m chasing those moments that do turnout to be positive experiences.
The entire field consists of half veterans and half rookies. This year there were 22 states and 22 countries represented. The race has multiple checkpoints or time stations along the course that runners must check in at, and there are also certain cutoff points that must be met to be able to continue the race. The checkpoints are at Furnace Creek (mile 17.5), Stove Pipe Wells (mile 42.3), Panamint Springs (mile 72.7), Darwin (mile 90.6), Lone Pine (mile 122.7), Portal Road (mile 131), and the Finish Line (mile 135). At each of these checkpoints there are medical teams stationed and there is also medical personnel patrolling the course to keep an eye on as many of the participants as possible. The race is well thought out and it runs very smooth.
Each runner has a crew that takes care of them throughout the race. There are no aid-stations in the race that you would normally see in an ultra-running event. The crew is limited to four people and you can only use one vehicle. The crew is with the runner the entire time and there is no shuttling of crew members from outside support. You carry all the supplies you think you and your crew may need throughout the two-day event. There are opportunities to get more supplies at four areas along the way, but you don’t want to rely on these places to have everything you need. They’re mainly for getting more ice, water, gas, and sometimes food. Oh, and don’t forget coffee.
Introducing my Crew: Team Delzer
The crew is the most important contributor to the runner having success in this race. They must work together, and there must be trust between the runner and the crew. 48 hours inside one vehicle is a very long time for anyone especially when you may be sleep deprived, hungry, and out of your comfort zone. I no doubt got this right and had an incredible team backing me up. It’s worth mentioning a little about each person on my team.
From left to right in above picture
Kyle Rodemacher: Our Crew Chief. One of my closest friends and running buddies. We met about five years ago and instantly connected. I sense that’s how most people feel when they meet Kyle for the first time. The dude is rad, a lot of fun, and a great runner himself who shares the same passion I do for exploring the trails and running ultra-races. We’ve formed a special bond and have shared memorable experiences while pounding pavement or running trail races in the middle of the night. We’ve been there for each other during our lowest lows and highest highs, and we have each other’s best interest at heart. Having Kyle on the team is a no-brainer and putting him at the helm of the crew allows him a behind the scenes look at the race. My next crew member has been a crew chief many times before so now having two team members on my team with this experience makes us stronger.
Perry Gray: Perry is an ultra-triathlete from Ottawa, Canada. I met him a couple years ago when I was in Death Valley to watch the race. He has been to Badwater the last seven years, and his experience is invaluable. How I got him on my team is still mind boggling as Perry has crewed for Marshall Ulrich, who is a legend in the endurance world and a 20-time finisher of Badwater. Perry’s knowledge and guidance amongst the group is what our team needed as the other three crew members are experiencing this race for the first time. Perry is a super dude and I knew everyone would get along great him.
Tim Floyd: I’ve known Tim for about five plus years and he is a very well-respected swim coach, not only in our community but amongst world class swimmers and professional triathletes. In 2017 I was having a conversation with Tim about my limiters at recent races. He showed interest in helping me become a better athlete by overcoming a common and recurring obstacle at these races. My ability to control my thoughts and emotions during races, when something didn’t go as planned, was an area for improvement. At that time, he had been working on some really cool stuff with training the brain to ultimately improve performance. This led to us working closer together. The results were astonishing as I won the next four races (Tunnel Light marathon, Brazos Bend 100, Rocky Racoon 100, and Wildflower marathon). He made it out to the two 100-mile races and mainly sat back and observed without saying much. When he spoke, it was very impactful and was a turning point in these races. I knew Tim would be a valuable asset to have on my team especially with the mental demands of Badwater.
Stefanie Delzer: An incredible woman, amazing mom, and my best friend. We’re like peas and carrots (spoken in my Forest Gump voice). One thing I definitely picked up on during my first trip to Badwater is that it is wise and very beneficial to have a female on your team. Women see and sense things different than men and thus play an important role. Having Stefanie on the team is great as she knows me better than anyone. If I’m going to push myself to its limits I want her there and by my side, especially when things get tough.
We all met in Las Vegas Saturday, July 21st. We picked up a Chevy Suburban from the Rental Car Center and headed for Death Valley. Mid-way between Vegas and Death Valley is the town of Pahrump, which is where we stopped to shop for food and other things we thought we may need during the trip and the race.
We had a room for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights at Stovepipe Wells which is along the race course (mile 42), and about 25 miles from where Racer check-in is located. Keeping the room Monday night, even though the race started Monday, allowed us the opportunity to rest leading up to the start. We didn’t need to worry about having to checkout of the room 12 hours before the race began.
Sunday morning, we drove along the course form Stove Pipe to the finish line so everyone could see the course during the day and become familiar with it. That afternoon was check-in for the racers and mandatory meetings afterwards for racers and crew chiefs. We really had a great time those two days leading up to the race and I had a lot of time to rest and relax.
Monday is probably the most difficult day because the race starts at 11 p.m. and you want to try and get as much rest as you can. My crew made sure I stayed off my feet and they took care of loading the car and getting everything prepared. It seemed like the longest day and you’re just ready to get started. I did a lot of meditation and stayed relaxed the best I could. My very close friend, Doug Barnette, who invited me out to see Badwater person two years ago, visited me at our room around 8:30 p.m. Monday just before we left. He gave us a good pep talk with some inspirational words of wisdom before we headed off to the start line.
We allowed plenty of time to get to Badwater Basin and we were actually running ahead of schedule so had some additional time to scope out things at the first checkpoint in Furnace Creek. As you’re headed from Furnace Creek to the start line at Badwater Basin it’s a really cool to see the line of cars and runners headlamps coming up Badwater road. You can see lights for miles and it really begins to set in that you are minutes from being on the same journey. We got to the parking lot about 10:15 p.m. and I had to get weighed, pick up my GPS tracking device, and be on the start line with about 10-15 minute to spare. We were able to get a parking spot that would allow the crew to get out of there easily and ahead of the main pack of cars.
Fifteen minutes before the start the runners and their crew members gather at the bottom of the boardwalk leading to the salt flats for racer introductions and the playing of the National Anthem. I felt comfortable standing in the back, out of the spotlight. I took an ice-cold water bottle and poured a little bit on my head and headband every couple minutes to keep wet and cool. It was hot down there, but the winds weren’t that strong as I had noticed the last couple years. When the wind blows it feels like a blow dryer blowing in your face on high. Without that factor I actually felt comfortable.
Badwater Basin to Furnace Creek: 17.5 Miles
My plan was to run the first half or more of the race at a conservative effort and try not to get carried away with running fast early on. It can be easy to forget about when you’re caught up in the hype. However, this is not the race you want to do that at and you will pay the price if you do. I started in control and concentrated on running efficiently to conserve as much energy as I could, and not beat up my legs too much. I was thinking I’d be somewhere in the top 5 for the first 17.5 miles to Furnace Creek, and that’s about where I was. First place was a runner from Russia and he took off pretty quick from the beginning so he was for the most part out of sight. That would have been a suicide pace for me so I ran mostly around 8:30 +/- 15 seconds per mile. This kept me at the front with two other runner, Zach Gingerich and Oswaldo Lopez, both of who are prior champions of Badwater.
It would have been a peaceful run, had Oswaldo’s crew not played this really loud sound or some sort of instrument every time they saw him. I don’t even know how to describe It, but it was almost like a horn. Oswaldo is a Mariachi musician. At first it was okay but it became a bit annoying after a while. They were stopping every half mile so it went on like this for a couple hours. I did my best two zone out and focus on good running economy, keeping on top of hydration/nutrition, and also keeping my body cool by spraying it down with water as needed.
Up to two crew members can cross the road to the side the runners are on (we are running facing traffic). My crew had a small lantern with a strobe light setting which made it very easy for me to spot. Some other crews used Christmas lights on the top of their vehicles for their runner to identify them. It has to be much easier for the crew and runner when you’re at the front of the pack because there is more separation from the main group. I also had a couple extra blinker lights on my race bib that would allow me to stand out. My crew and I had our stops dialed in really well and we wasted very little time. I probably spent at most 10 seconds swapping bottles of fluids as well as bending over and having an ice-cold sponge squeezed on the back of my neck and top of my head. Since we were stopping every two miles I rarely went through an entire bottle so a lot of times I sprayed water on my head, face, neck, and shirt to keep wet and cooled down. I had five options of fluids to choose from; water, coconut water, Klean Athlete Hydration, Maurten, and Clif lemon lime electrolyte mix. I wanted to have a variety of drinks in case I was in the mood for one particular drink, and also needed to make sure I was staying on top of my electrolytes. The main source of calories came from Huma Gels, the Klean Hydration drink, and the Maurten drink. My goal per hour was to consume upwards of 400 calories, 95g. of carbs, 1000mg. of sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes.
The first section is relatively flat, but there are a few climbs that you must pay attention to and not get carried a way on. The temperature for the first ten miles was around 110 degrees and wasn’t too bad. However, as we were 15 miles into the race and a couple miles out from Furnace Creek the winds picked up and the temperature jumped up a couple degrees. It was much more noticeable and drier to the skin. Also, around this time, it felt like what I was drinking was sloshing around in my stomach. I didn’t think much more of it but tried sticking with water for a while to hopefully not have any issues. As we arrived to the Time Station at Furnace Creek I was surprised that I somehow showed up as second place. Zach and Oswaldo were both ahead of me by 30-60 seconds, but they must have stopped before the checkpoint.
Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells: 42.2 Miles
I noticed something not right with my foot going into Furnace Creek and it began to feel like a blister forming between my outer two right toes. I took a little longer break just after Furnace Creek so I could change into a different shoe and put on a fresh pair of Drymax socks. I had planned on wearing what I had for the first 40 miles but I didn’t want to risk it. The new shoe was the Skechers Go Razor which is a lighter weight shoe and what I wanted to wear up the climb to Towne Pass. I had one other max-cushioned shoe, but it was a shoesize up and I was afraid that if my foot moved too much inside the shoe then that may create friction and cause more problems.
I was hoping to settle back into a groove like I had before, but things weren’t feeling good. I took more time at the next meeting point with my crew. The first sign I recognized I was getting a little tired is when I no longer ran all the way to where my crew was. I actually began walking about 20’ before them, and I remember I did this at Keys 100 the prior year when I was tired. I thought maybe some caffeine would be helpful so I tried a couple pieces of Run Gum which is equivalent to a cup of coffee. I also started using my ice bandana, which is essentially ice rolled into a bandana that you tie around your neck. It allows the ice to sit on the back of your neck to keep your body temperature down. At mile 22 I crossed the road to where my crew was and spent a couple more minutes trying to figure out what I could do as my stomach was really upset. I also noticed that there was quite a bit of salt buildup on the sleeves of my shirt. I thought maybe I needed to get in more electrolytes so I tried the Clif electrolyte drink, and some Klean Athlete electrolyte pills.
Between miles 20-25 the temperature stayed around 110 degrees. My pace fell off quite a bit and I was running between 10:30-12:00 miles (this pace includes time stopping with crew). I came through the marathon around 4:10 which I wasn’t too happy with, but things weren’t feeling natural and I knew I had to slow it down and figure out. I wanted to check to see how much weight I lost as monitoring this allows me to stay on top of hydration. I’m a high sweater and in this dry weather the sweat evaporates right away so you don’t realize how much you’re actually sweating. I knew I had been due to the salt buildup on my shirt but curious if and how much weight I lost. I was down 4.5 pounds. It seemed a little alarming initially, but I can lose up to 48 oz per hour from sweating which is 4 pounds. I can comfortably drink 32 oz per hour without feeling bloated so being down a total of 4 pounds is about average.
I tried to get in more fluids, but it became too much for my stomach. At mile 30 I threw up quite a bit of what I had recently drank and was down another 1.5 pounds. That was the first time I had to stop and rest for a while. It was an 8+ minute break. I was feeling weak and there wasn’t much bouncing back from this. It actually got quite ugly from here and I didn’t have an appetite to want to take my gels. The next mile I walked and then at mile 32 my crew suggested I get in the car and take a break to cool down. I spent 15 minutes or so sitting in the car and this is where my emotions got the best of me. I was pretty devastated at that point and couldn’t believe I wasn’t even a quarter into the race and already experiencing this much trouble. My crew was monitoring my nutrition and fluid intake and I had went the last three hours with only consuming 300 calories. If I was to continue and had any shot at getting back into it then I’d have to start eating.
I changed into another shirt and took my phone so I could listen to music, hoping that would help me find a rhythm and get moving again. I also began carrying a spray bottle so I could keep myself wet to allow for a cooling effect. I also slowed down to a walk when I needed to take gels to have a better chance of getting them down and hopefully keep them from coming back up. Unfortunately, the music wasn’t doing it for me and I just felt completely exhausted.
The sun was rising over the mountain and I knew it was going to get warmer soon so walked and ran to Stovepipe Wells. There were quite a few people coming into Stovepipe and I was catching some runners in the first and second wave. It was good to see some veterans of the race that I had met before and that seemed to lift my spirts. I walked a little with Marshall Ulrich who is a 20x finisher of the race, and also saw Will Glover and Joshua Holmes coming into Stovepipe. All offered words of encouragement which was extremely helpful and needed at the time.
We had a room right off the course at Stovepipe that was probably 20’ from the highway. I checked in at Time Station 2 and then went to the room to cool off. I had planned before the race that I would stop in there to change clothes and possibly shower if needed. I went straight to the shower with clothes on and sat there with my body hunched over. The water was warm and that’s what you get in the desert, but still felt amazing to be soaking wet. After about five minutes I changed into different shorts, applied Squirrel’s Nut Butter – Anti Chafe, and put on a new shirt made by Rabbit that feels amazing. Since my crew was getting gas, more ice, and a few other things I decided to lay down on the bed and relax. Stefanie brought me some Ramon noodles and I was able to get that down with no problem. Another race, Brad Lombardi, that I crewed for last year stopped in the room to tell me I better get moving and finish this race. It gave me some energy to get up and start getting ready. I put on the Nike Vapor Fly’s since this next part is uphill and I wanted a lighter shoe. Once I put them on they were tight and I could tell my feet were swollen. I had not experienced that before but decided to keep them on as the upper part of the shoe is a bit forgiving due to the lighter material.
Stove Pipe Wells to Panamint Springs: 72.7 miles
From here it’s a 17-mile long ascent with 5000’ of elevation gain. Then a 10-mile descent with 3000’ of elevation loss into the Panamint Valley. I had just under two hours to make it to the first time cutoff point of the race which was at mile 50. I didn’t have any more cushion on time and wasn’t going to be able to take long breaks. I would essentially have to move the entire time if I was to make this cutoff. It was hot and the road surface was cooking. We lathered up my calves with sunblock as the sun was beaming from behind.
The thought of another 90 miles to go in the shape I had been in, and during the hottest part of the day, seemed like a lot. At the time I didn’t have much drive and I was really wrestling internally with myself whether I should continue or not. Kyle was with me pacing now and doing everything he could to keep my mind positive. Tim was also trying to help get my head back in it and my concentration on the present moment.
I think the entire crew could sense my doubts and could see it in my body language. It got to such a low point that it crossed my mind about slowing the pace enough so that I would miss the cutoff and be forced to drop from the race. I somehow thought that could be a way out and nobody would ever look at me as being a quitter. I could blame it on a tough day due to the record temperatures and people would believe it. I knew if I did that I would regret that decision forever which made it so tough. I was drained and just didn’t have the fuel to keep pushing or keep my brain from not wanting to stop.
Runners in the first two waves have more overall time on the clock to reach the 10 a.m. cutoff. The third wave has to still make it to that point at the same time as the others which makes this first one challenging to reach if you experience trouble up to that point. My crew was stopping more to make sure I had what I needed so they would only drive up a mile to give me aid. Instead of them coming over to my side of the road I wanted to go to the vehicle and cool off a little bit in the shade before continuing. The downside to this is I was losing 2-3 minutes at each stop. I was wasting a lot of time and after the second time, Tim came up to me and said something along the lines of, “You don’t have any more time to waste and you need to get moving. If you really want this you need to get your ass going or your race is over”. I don’t recall if those were his exact words, but the point of his message was clear and he put the ball in my court. It stuck with me and was what I needed to hear to get my mind back in it.
My attitude changed and I went into fight mode from then on. The next four miles were the fastest miles since leaving Stove Pipe. It wasn’t pretty, but I was passing a lot of people and I was determined to make it before the time cutoff. It was the hardest thing I felt like I had done as I was out of fuel and having to climb a mountain while the temperature stayed at 109 degrees. The Ramon noodles burned off and I still didn’t feel like taking gels. I was relying on watermelon and oranges and that was pretty much it. Kyle was still with me and he brought a ziploc bag full of ice so we didn’t have to stop at the vehicle the next time. It turned out to be perfect as I could hold it to my face or keep under my armpit to cool off. As the ice melted I would pour the water onto my head and face. Instead of having to cross the road he would run over to the crew and get more as needed. That saved me quite a bit of time and allowed me to push harder. With two minutes to spare we made it to the cutoff point. It’s 2000’ sign, just before a parking lot/ rest area with some restroom facilities.
There were quite a few runners that didn’t make it in time and were forced to drop. We didn’t have to rush once we got there which was nice to be able to cool down and try to get some food down. We took a 15-minute break and got ready for the next climb which is 3000’ over 8 miles. The good thing is I didn’t have to rush anymore as the next cutoff point 20 miles away at Panamint Spring and at 8 p.m. so I essentially had 10 hours to get there which should not be a problem.
The temperature stayed at 109 degrees the entire time up this climb. Usually for every 1000’ you climb the temperature drops 5 degrees. Unfortunately, the temperature was also rising about 5 degrees every hour so I never caught a break. I put on my white Hoka’s hoping maybe that would allow my feet to feel cooler. I wore Drymax Thin Crew socks to give a little protection from the sun and also keep water from getting in my shoes to my feet since I’m using a lot of water to keep my body cool. The rest of the way to the top of this mountain was much steeper and the elevation gain was 350’ -400’ per mile.
My average pace walking up this climb was about 17 minutes per mile. I would take breaks for a couple minutes each mile again. At mile 52 I was zapped and the crew told me I needed to eat something. I stopped for 15 minutes and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and Tostito chips. I took more electrolytes and drank a 16oz bottle of coconut water. The food and break gave me instant energy which I needed. Also knowing I was within a few miles from reaching the top of this climb was a morale boost and I began to run/walk the rest of the way up. I changed shoes again at the top to the Skechers Ultra R2 which is a maximum cushioned road shoe. I figured this would be a good choice to help absorb some of the pounding on the quads from running downhill. I made my way down the mountain which was much steeper than the climb up. I was averaging in the 9 minute range per mile and could see Panamint Springs off in the distance with a little cloud coverage in the distance.
Once off the mountain it’s flat for five miles across the Panamint Valley and you’re exposed to the wind and the sun. The shaded areas I once saw before from clouds had moved so it was complete exposure throughout this section and felt like you were running with a hair dryer blowing in your face. I started feeling some pain in my knee once at the bottom of the climb and that was likely caused by more force on the lower body while running down the mountain. I took some Aleve and also put some ice on my knee for a little while before continuing. It was another slow mile after that and back to being really hot. The road surface here was 159 degrees and I tried running the white line and also off the road and on the gravel to try to escape the heat radiating off the asphalt. There were sections of the road that smelled like the asphalt was cooking.
Knowing I was only about halfway done with the race and feeling completely drained I was having the same doubts as earlier about continuing. We were getting low on ice although we had enough to get to Panamint. I told Kyle and the crew once we arrive at Panamint that I wanted to take a break and to not restock with ice as I wasn’t sure I would continue. The thought of going 100km (62 miles) seemed like a daunting task that I didn’t know I was up for. At the time I really wasn’t thinking straight and thought I had more like 73 miles to run. Kyle was again talking to me and convincing me to not give up quite yet and things could turn for the good. We eventually made it to Panamint Springs and I went to check in and then walked to the side of the restaurant to sit down in the shade. Kyle had me sit in a chair and facing some wind that I wasn’t sure was from an AC fan until Stefanie came up there and said it wasn’t and to lay down and rest. The inside was full so they placed a foam mat on the ground close to where I was sitting and I laid down and was out by the time my head touched the mat. I subconsciously remember Stefanie taking wet clothes and putting them around my wrist and forehead while I fell asleep. I’m not sure how long it was but felt like at least half an hour and then I sat up for a bit and drank some coke. By this time, we were able to get a table inside and ordered some food for everyone. I had a bowl of chicken noodle soup and picked through some pasta salad. Stefanie and the others shared a large pizza. Rest and food were the two things I needed the most and it got me back into a positive state and ready to push on. I felt a lot more optimistic knowing it was going to be getting dark soon and that I could walk this next section as it was up a mountain.
Panamint Springs to Darwin Turn-Off: 90.6 miles
We decided to leave Panamint at 5:30 p.m. and take on the second mountain of the race which was about a 3000’ climb over 14 miles. It’s steep and roads are narrow with limited opportunities for vehicles to pass. Parking is only allowed in designated locations for the next 12 miles so the crew would only be able to stop every 1 to 1.5 miles depending on where these areas were, and also if there were any available parking spots. Kyle started out hiking this first section for a few miles and then Stefanie took a turn at pacing with me. We walked for four miles which was nice to share some one on one time with her and also watch the sunset over the first mountain we climbed. We were very close to Rainbow Canyon which earned its nickname because of its mineral-rich soils and colors of red, gray, and pink walls. This is an area that the US Air Force and Navy have fighter jets train and fly beneath the canyon rim. During our climb up, we saw quite a few jets flying low and putting on a show. It was a cool experience and provided a little boost of energy. The temperatures were becoming much more pleasant now as it finally dipped below 100 degrees. There were Fighter Jets flying throughout this area and was an awesome show to watch.
We had another stop where I got in the van to change shoes and cool down. Perry took a turn at pacing and we hiked up to the Father Crowley Turnout which was 80.65 miles of the course. We rested a bit longer at the top and I ate some more Ramon noodles. I used the foam roller to help massage my legs and to target some trigger points to allow for more range of motion in my stride. By now it was dusk and getting dark so we put on headlamps and continued the climb. It was a relief not having the heat from the sun and I felt like I was getting my energy back. It’s crazy how much of a toll the heat takes on your body. I was getting goose bumps with the breeze and felt so much better. From here we had to climb up to above 5000’ with rolling hills. It was neat seeing more creatures now that it was getting dark. Before it was mainly lizards and chipmunks running around, and now we were seeing tarantulas, bats, and canyon mice. After we reached the top of the climb I got in the vehicle again to shut my eyes for about 15 minutes. My plan was to run the next 40 miles through the night to Lone Pine and taking a power nap would give us a lot of energy to make it through this long stretch to Lone Pine.
Darwin Turn-Off to Lone Pine: 108.1 Miles
From here it’s a long descent for 18 miles into Keeler, which is a small mining town. There was a line of cars with their emergency flashers on and tiny lights of runners for as far as you could see. I began to pick up the pace and got into a good rhythm. I ran quite a few miles at a 9-minute pace and even pulled off a couple sub-9-minute miles when I didn’t need to stop with my crew. It was a relief being able to run again and moving so well. I kept repeating to myself “where there’s a will there’s a way.” I started to drink coke which I usually would never drink during training and especially not during a race. I know a lot of people that use coke, but I never had much if any success with it so stayed away from it. Plus, I didn’t want to risk having gastric issues from it. I immediately noticed a huge difference after drinking it and could feel the sugar and caffeine buzz. I drank that along with eating MM’s which gave me a nice little boost of energy. I also had an appetite for some chips and was throwing down snack size bags of Doritos, Cheetos, and animal crackers. We had to spread out the cokes every few miles as we didn’t have enough and would eventually run out.
Sometime around 2 a.m. a car coming in my direction pulled off the road just ahead of me with their headlights turned off. As I passed I thought I heard a familiar voice call my name. It was my uncle that drove from LA so he could see me finish the race. He was driving to checkout some of the action at night and it was such an awesome surprise to see him out there. We chatted briefly and then he went to Lone Pine for the night.
At the break of dawn, the fatigue of running for the last 6-1/2 hours and likely not getting enough calories from cokes and chips had caught up with me and I was beginning to fade. We were out of cokes and had about six more miles to reach Lone Pine. There is McDonalds there and it’s a popular stopping point for many of the racers. I now know why and kept thinking how good hash browns and sweet tea would be. Kyle could sense how bad I needed something and sent the crew to make a quick stop there and also get more cokes. I was so tired at this point I was walking with my eyes closed to try to catch a little sleep. The only problem was I couldn’t walk in a straight line with my eyes closed and it was too dangerous as there wasn’t much of a shoulder to be safe from the oncoming traffic. We made it a couple miles and the crew showed up with everything I needed. I poured the sweet tea in a bottle and took off with a handful of hash browns.
I now had energy again and started thinking about potential finishing times. I wanted to try and make it to the finish line by 9 a.m. which would be 34 hours. Tim had to leave at 10 a.m. so this would allow enough time for him to be at the finish line and not have to rush to get back to his car in Lone Pine. I stopped just before getting into Lone Pine to foam roll one last time to again allow me to get more range of motion in my running stride and also apply Topical Edge PR lotion to my legs as I knew the climb up Mt. Whitney would be a hard effort. With four miles to go to the next Time Station we had to pick up the pace so we could get there by 6 a.m. Coming into Lone Pine was a relief and I began running a couple 8:30 minute miles. Once we reviewed the splits of the race I ran the third fastest time from Darwin to Lone Pine.
Lone Pine to Portal Road: 131 miles
I went through Time Station #5 at 122.7 miles and didn’t want to stop as I was ready to get this finished. I made the turn onto Whitney Portal Rd. to begin the final leg, the longest and steepest climb of the race. It’s a half marathon that starts at 3,700’ elevation and finishes at 8,360’. This next section to Time Station #6 is 8.4 miles long and has an average elevation gain of 300’- 400’ per mile. I ran/walked for the first few miles. Then decided to walk more and conserve some energy for the final four-mile climb of 2000’. My crew came to my side of the road now to give me aid as there was another racer not to far ahead that I had in my sights.
I power-hiked with a sense of urgency and it didn’t take too long to catch and pass him. As my crew drove ahead to the next meeting point they noticed another runner with an 11-minute lead. There was a little over 2.5 miles until the main climb with the switchbacks up Mt. Whitney. I wanted to try and bridge as much of that gap as possible before getting there. I began walking and running to try and eat away at the lead. Kyle was with me carrying a couple bottles of cold water and spraying me down to keep wet and cool. I also used the water bottle I had to spray my face and body. Perry came to the side of the road I was on and had ice cold sponges and coke which I would take each time. After one mile of chasing I was within 5 minutes and by the second mile only a couple minutes behind. Once we reached the check point I was literally on his heels. I had the fastest split of the race for this section.
Portal Road to the Finish: 135 miles
I kept on the pedal and walked by him thinking he may let me go. Who was I kidding?!? This guy is a 10-time Badwater finisher, Ray Sanchez, and he was not going to let me get off that easy. I went solo for the first portion up the climb and Ray and his pacer stayed in hot pursuit. It wasn’t long until he decided to pass me and tried to open up a gap. It felt like a race within a race and I would put in a little surge each time he tried to pull away. He ran for a longer period of time than I did, but I was able to do a few very quick and long strides which didn’t cause my heart rate to spike. I tried to do more walking which gave my legs a chance to take a break and regroup. We approached a switchback and I was thinking when I might want to make a move. Out of nowhere something inside my head said go and I took off. I heard him say something to his pacer like “there he goes”. It was essentially a sprint for 30 seconds and I could tell my legs were getting heavy and if not careful I may experience an epic blow up. There was still two more miles to go and I was hoping I had not made a big mistake by making this move too soon.
I was afraid to look back because I didn’t want to give him any signs that I was concerned where he was. However, I wanted to see how much distance I put in on him and what kind of shape he looked like. I opened up about 40 yards on him which was the most either of us had up to this point. I was hurting pretty good at the time, but willing to put it all out there and leave everything on this last climb. I went back to my rotation of running and walking that was working and anytime I turned a corner and was out of sight I would try to run for a longer time to hopefully put more time on him. His crew was cheering hard for him and he was not giving up. I just knew I had to keep on that effort and not let him feel he had a chance to catch me. Within a mile to go I dug deeper for one more hard effort and that was all that was needed. By then I had a 200 meter or more lead and felt really good about things. Kyle was right behind me and we met up with my crew coming down the homestretch. I couldn’t have planned a better way to finish this race. After things not turning out the way I had hoped for I was at least able to compete at the end and leave everything on the course. Ray’s team showed amazing sportsmanship and it was awesome seeing them willing to give everything they had until the end. We both had broke the fastest time going up Mt. Whitney by more than five minutes. My split was 45:40 and the previous record was 51 minutes.
Finish time: 33:57:40 17th overall
Hottest Start Line Temperatures recorded (118 F)
Highest Temps recorded for July 24th 127 F
Hottest Month Ever Recorded in US. 108.1
Lowest Completion Rate in the history 30 of 99 DNF
2017 has been an exceptional year with quite a bit of learning about myself and abilities at the hundred mile distance. I waited until February to finalize my plans for the year as I was holding out until the entry process took place for Badwater -135, World’s Toughest Footrace. Once I found out I wasn’t eligible to be selected into the 45th race, due to not meeting the qualifications to apply, I decided to focus on a race schedule. I was a little bummed at first, but with only 100 invites into the race (half rookies/half veterans), I realize I didn’t have the resume or experience as some of the other applicants.
In 2015 I had one of the top-10 hundred mile times in the country for a hundred miles with a 14:15. I thought it would be a good challenge to get my name on the top-10 list again, but multiple times. It would also serve as a way to meet the prerequisite for entry into Badwater. I looked for certain races that are flatter and faster courses which suit my strengths and style of running. The unknown was how I would do with racing this distance and having quite a few of them so close together. I completed Brazos Bend-100 in December 2016, and the first race of the year was Rocky Raccoon-100, eight weeks later. Then eight weeks after that would be Umstead-100 and another seven weeks to Keys-100. Then for the summer I would take off some time to rest and finish the second half of the year with Habanero-100, Javelina-100, and Brazos Bend-100 with those being six weeks apart. Here is a short recap on the races for 2017.
Rocky Raccoon 02/04/17 was a successful day as I came away with the title of USATF 100-mile Trail Champion and a PR of 13:44. I was up against a highly competitive field of really strong runners from all over the country. Fortunately, the home course advantage and consistent and solid training I had leading up to this point paid off. I was actually 2nd overall, behind James Stewart (24-hour runner) from the UK. The US Championship Race is a race within a race essentially and since James is an international runner, I took the title. I experienced some complications in this race primarily between 50-60 miles. This was the 5th fastest hundred miler in the country for 2017. Read about it here.
Umstead Endurance Run 04/01/17 is also known to be a fast course. The main thing that attracted me to this race is that it brought me back to my roots, literally. I lived in Raleigh, NC until I was about ten years old and this is where I first started running. I was excited to run my first ultra-marathon in NC and have my family be a part of the experience. My father, mother, sister, brother-in-law all came out and were my official support crew for the day. It was extra special having them there to share this moment with them. I was doing quite well most of the day, but found a rough patch around 50-60 mile mark that I seemed to struggle with before. At the end of the day I was outrunned by Olivier Leblond who was selected as the 2017 Ultra Road Runner of the Year, and also the 2016 US 24-hour Champion. I was beginning to find out that these 24-hour guys are tough and solid runners. Finished 2nd overall in 14:43. This was the 19th fastest hundred mile in the country for 2017. Read about it here.
Keys-100 05/20/17 was another race I was looking forward to and hoping for a sub-15 hour time. It’s also directed by a Badwater veteran, Bob Becker, and known to be a good race to do in preparation for the World’s Toughest Foot Race. Someone told me Keys 100 is like the oven and Badwater is the fire. Well the humidity and heat got to me much sooner than I expected as I had a taste of heat exhaustion by mile 20. It became a long day after that and was a complete sufferfest for the next 80 miles. I fought my way to the finish for my slowest time of the year with a 17:53 overall time and fifth place finish. I learned quite a bit about pushing through discomfort and enduring through some very difficult moments. I’ll be able to tap into that mental strength in future races. However, at the time it zapped quite a bit out of me mentally and made me want to reevaluate the rest of the year.
I decided to pass on Habanero-100 in August and focus my attention on getting my speed back. I noticed that having these hundred mile races 7-8 weeks a part was resulting in too much time off from training due to recovery and tapering. My overall fitness was decreasing and I felt like I needed to get that sharpness back to finish off the year. I have run 214 fewer miles in 2017 than I did in 2016. I decided to register for a fall marathon as something fun and to keep things interesting with focusing solely on the marathon. I looked for a fast course that I could do well on and also PR and BQ for Boston 2018. I chose Tunnel Light Marathon outside of Seattle, WA in September. I quickly realized that training for a fall marathon in Texas during the summer is quite challenging. Initially I had a higher finishing time goal when I registered, and had to change my expectations about 4-6 weeks out from the race. It’s extremely difficult to get in high quality workouts with the humidity and temps in July/August. None the less I put in the work and showed up to race day with confidence.
Tunnel Light Marathon 09/17/17 was during the enormous Pacific Northwest wildfires. There were several out of control fires blazing due to an unusually dry summer in a region known for rain. There was quite a bit of uncertainty whether the race would go on due to air quality and unhealthy conditions. It turned out that the winds were blowing in the right direction the day of the race and the race would go on. I ran very smart from the gun and pretty much negative split the entire race. It was a well-executed race that resulted in an overall win. I was pleased to come away with a personal best of 2:34 and a course record. Read about it here.
Shortly after this race there was talks of a highly competitive field shaping up for Brazos Bend-100. That made me rethink my plans for the remainder of the year as I found out Ian Sharman and Calum Neff were going to be running. Ian was talking about going after the 100 mile Trail World Record. Anytime there is an opportunity to race against talent like these two guys I want to be on my A-game. Also knowing what I had learned the first half of the year I didn’t think I would be in top shape with races six weeks apart.
Good thing I did not register for Javelina-100 because at work we went through a computer software integration which turned into a nightmare. My days turned into 12 hours of dealing with problem after problem and putting out fires at work. It was one of the most difficult experiences of my career and it impacted training quite a bit. Usually running for me is an outlet to relieve stress, but it was a constant thing on my mind and overwhelming at times. I was letting it get to me where I couldn’t sleep some nights. I got up many mornings at 4 a.m. to run, but that would catch up with me as I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I would have one good week of mileage in the mid to upper-80’s followed by a week in the mid-40’s. That was pretty much how it was from the middle of October to November until my immune system got compromised and I caught the flu. Catching the flu was a wakeup call that I couldn’t continue on that path and had to stop letting it affect me. At the same time period I got news that race favorite, Ian Sharman, announced he was not going to run Brazos as his training had been flat and he wasn’t recovering from harder races earlier in the year. The same week Cal Neff got hit by a truck during a run one morning and fractured his Fibula and therefore he would be out. Fortunately, Cal is okay and his injuries were not life threatening. I thought for a moment that I might have to drop out as I didn’t run for about a week as I had very little energy. I eventually was able to resume training and was got in some good mileage two weeks leading up to the race.
Brazos Bend 12/09/17 was an amazing day. I kept quiet and remained poised leading all the way up to the start. I was optimistic with how things would go and knew I could have a good day if I believed in my abilities and stayed in control and in the moment throughout the day. This is actually my first win at the hundred mile distance and doing it on this course means a lot. It was a PR of 13:40 on a slightly longer course and also course record by over an hour. Read about it here. This was the 4th fastest hundred miler in the country for 2017. Although that was my best performance on that day, I know it’s not my best day of running and what I’m capable of. It gives me the aspiration to keep perusing these longer distances and knowing I’m on the right path.
THANK YOU TO ALL THAT HAVE SUPPORTED ME AND BEEN BEHIND ME THIS YEAR!!! The successes I’ve had this year would not be possible without the care and attention I received from my sponsors. Without a doubt I’m able to perform at this level thanks to them. The more consistent I can be with the training the better I’m going to evolve. Thank you Klean Athlete, Drymax Socks, Alternative Health Center of The Woodlands. I also want to thank Tim Floyd with Magnolia Masters. Tim is a Swim Coach that works with many athletes including top triathletes in the world. We spent the second half of the year working on mindfulness and training my brain. A lot of this long endurance racing and quality training is in your head. Let’s go 2018!
Brazos Bend 100 12-09-17
My alarm went off at a 4 a.m. and I felt rested as I was able to get a good night’s sleep. It was a cold morning with temps in the 30’s so I layered up with warm clothes and made some coffee for the road. Also ate a small breakfast along with a Klean Athlete BCAA drink. I headed to the park at 4:20 a.m. to hopefully beat the mad rush of runners arriving at 5 a.m.
The race began at 6 a.m. and I started in control at a comfortable pace. I typically go out faster than I did, but I wanted to keep the effort from the beginning very relaxed. The trails were also muddy in this first section as it snowed the day before. It turned what is usually solid ground into a sticky paste of mud that caked to your shoes and added extra weight of what felt like an additional pound or two. It was like clay and didn’t come off easily, unless you scraped your shoes across rocks or branches. A little over a mile from the start there is an out and back section with a turnaround point about 3/10 of a mile or so. One runner was ahead of us at the time and he was out of site by this point. He didn’t turn and it created some confusion as what to do. I remember the race director mention in the race briefing the day before that 50/100 mile runners would turn there. I shined my head lamp on the cones with a sign and it said NO / Turn Around. It was a split second decision and I decided to not turn around. I’ve ran this section of the trail before and was familiar with it so I knew it looped around. I could also see the footsteps in the frosted grass of the runner ahead so I knew for sure he went this way. I didn’t feel great about the situation and went a while without seeing any course markings except for some reflective tape every so often on branches (not part of the race markers). I didn’t want to turn around and cut the course so I proceeded to continue on this trail. I was hoping someone behind would shout to turn around. There was also lots of water covering the trails on this section and it was challenging getting though without getting wet. I did pretty good avoiding it for the most part, but one section I had no choice and had to be light on my feet as possible. Fortunately, I had two pairs of Drymax socks on so only felt a little wetness at first and my feet actually stayed warm which I was concerned about. This additional section added somewhere between .7 to a mile and I was thinking maybe there is a change somewhere else along the course.
At mile seven I met Michael Goodwin who came out to crew for me and I ditched my headlamp with him and picked up a bottle with Klean Athlete Hydration. I kept a comfortable effort for the first lap and just listened to all the sounds of nature around me. I saw deer, wild hogs, raccoons and pretty sure I heard alligators splashing in the water. By the turnaround point at Sawmill aid station (mile 12) I had a couple minute lead on second place and four minute or so lead on the next group. While running I’m constantly staying in tuned with my body and trying to move as efficiently as possible with very little wasted energy. I noticed some tightness in my hamstring and felt a little stiffness in my glute and hip flexor on my right side. It didn’t feel like I was getting a full range of motion on that side and I figured maybe it had something to do with the cold temps or the mud we ran through earlier. I stretched and tried some things that have worked this year and it eventually went away.
At the completion of the first lap I got my copy of the race course map and showed the Race Director what we had done, missing the turnaround. He assured me that it was definitely a turnaround point and we should not have gone straight. He sent two guys ahead on a utility vehicle to check it out as the sign was a bit confusing. They moved more cones across the trail so that it was obvious not to pass. I certainly was happy as I didn’t want to run 105 miles or run through water again. Second place, Wade Barrett, started to catch me at mile 25 and positioned himself behind me. I could hear him and was hoping he would go ahead and pass. It went on for a few minutes or more so I stopped and stretched my hamstring, and allowed him to pass. Then I proceeded about forty yards back. He started walking to take in some nutrition and I took over the lead again. We leapfrogged like this for most of the back half of the course. I asked what his name was and started to chit chat which was nice to break the ice. We came into the start/finish area almost at the same time. I told my support crew to have new shoes and socks ready in about two miles where I could get through the muddy section and make a quick shoe/sock change.
Wade made his way to the aid station and I took the opportunity to make a move and try to open a gap between us. It worked and I was able to put a three minute lead on him and change into Nike Vaporfly 4%. I noticed an immediate difference with the cushion and it was also nice to put on a fresh pair of Drymax socks. I was running well for a few miles and then I began to feel some stiffness with my legs and my stride length didn’t feel the same as it had for the first 37 miles. I don’t usually go through issues this early into a race but I began having some doubts about things if this was going to continue and get worse. I met up with my crew before heading out to the back half of the course and asked Kyle to get some Excedrin ready at the next aid station (mile 43). I had to get out of this funk I was in and was hoping that would help with the pain. On the way out Tim Floyd told me to concentrate on being in the moment and not get caught up on the lows. I’ve been working with Tim Floyd for six months on training the brain to get into a flow state (in the zone). I’ve seen huge improvements with my training and heart rate during higher intensity runs. It’s helped with my performance and something I was looking forward to trying out during the race.
I fell off pace between miles 38 and 46 and this was the first time I was running above 8-minute miles. It took a little time for the Excedrin to kick in and for me to get my mind right. I took a minute or so break at the Sawmill aid station (mile 46) which is the mid-way point of a 2.7 mile out and back section. I drank some pickles and stretched really well before heading back. When I started to go I felt great again and I was able to open up my stride and pick up the pace. I found myself running a good rhythm and started knocking out 7:30 miles again. I had increased my lead on Wade by eight minutes and my confidence was up. I didn’t feel like I was exerting anymore effort so I was going to ride this wave as long as I could and that was my mindset all the way back to the start/finish area. I came through 50 miles at 6:40. I stopped for a couple minutes to use the foam roller on my glutes, hamstring, and hip flexors. Then rubbed Topical Edge all over my legs to help my muscles. I also put on some sunglasses and went out for the fourth lap. I held that sub-8 pace for another nine miles. The pain and stiffness was starting to set in again. I figured it would after a couple hours so I took another Excedrin to hopefully get ahead of it. I’m very cautious about taking this and not overdoing it as I have found myself with Rhabdomyolysis before after taking ibuprofen during a race. I had a few mile over an 8 minute pace, but then got back into a good rhythm on the out and back section at Sawmill. The lead on Wade now grew to 35 minutes and my spirits were high. I knew I had to just keep moving at a steady effort and things were shaping up to be an awesome day.
I picked up my first pacer, Zach Miller at mile 72 and we ran well together for the back 11 miles. It’s good to have company on the out and back section to Sawmill for the 4th and 5th loop as it always seems longer later in the race. We kept it between a 7:40 and 8:20 pace with me stopping and stretching every couple miles. When we saw Wade he looked good and like he was starting to bounce back. I only added about three minutes to my lead in 16 miles. When we completed the fifth lap I stopped to foam roll again, apply some more Topical Edge on my legs, put on some arm sleeves, a VPE hat, and headlamp.
I began the sixth and final lap with Michael Goodwin. We were moving along nicely for a couple miles, but then got into a bit of a slower pace as the sun went down. I think my mind was starting to go. I was looking at the scenery at 40 Acre Lake and I also thinking about having some warm food at the next aid station. After about 12 hours and 24 gels you begin to get sick of those and want some real food. We stopped at the next aid station and I got a warm cup of Ramen noodles and walked for a bit to get that down. I wasn’t too overly concerned with time as I knew I could make it up on the back half. This section of the course (40 Acre Lake ) is my favorite and I was content with slowing down and seeing it for one last time.
We made it to mile 90 and I picked up Kyle Rodemacher as a pacer to run the last part. On the way out Tim told me to just observe. At first I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. We maintained the same pace I had been running with Michael. The pain and stiffness was setting in and I knew I just needed to keep it together until the last out and back section to Sawmill. Once we did I asked for my phone and headphones. I had been looking forward to the playlist I made and had a feeling it would help tune out the pain for what was about to come on this last part. My thought process is that the effort already hurts so go faster and get it over with sooner. I was in enough pain already that it couldn’t hurt much more. Kyle has paced for me before and we did something similar to finish last year’s race. He was up ahead of me about 15 feet and I remembered what Tim said about observing. I found myself staring at Kyle’s shoes and whatever it was on the back of his shoes that were reflecting from the light of my headlamp. That’s all I kept my focus on for the last seven miles. We were running stride for stride and I tuned out all the discomfort and just observed his cadence. Our pace went from 9:30 per mile to low-7. It’s very cool when you don’t have to tell your pacer what to do and he just takes over. I’m pretty sure he knew all along what we needed to run for me to get a PR. My fastest split of the day was the last two miles with a 7:07 and 7:09.
Before approaching the finish line I ditched the headlamp and phone. I met up with my kids Miles and Kaitlin and we ran the last stretch together to the finish line. My son Miles told me earlier in the week that he was looking forward to seeing me run. That was the first time he has expressed that leading up to a race. It was very special to be able to share that moment and experience with them.
My overall time was 13:40:57 for a new course record and personal best. It was great to see Rob Goyen (Race Director) at the finish and receive a sub-16 hour belt buckle from him. We had a rough first year in 2014 at this same race and I believe it was a relief for both of us with this result. I was on pace to win this race in 2014 and some unforeseen circumstances changed the outcome. Then again I was on pace in 2016 to win and I screwed it up by going out way too fast for 50 miles. This day was extra special as it is my first overall win for the 100 miler. I felt like I finally got it right and executed a really solid race. It was truly a special moment celebrating with my crew and friends at the finish. I feel so much gratitude for the friendships we have.
Video of Finish: https://www.facebook.com/VPEndurance/videos/550882301926178/
Strava Activity file with splits: https://www.strava.com/activities/1308905336
Lap 1: 2:12:38 (.7 miles extra) 7:36 pace
Lap 2: 2:09:45 7:44 pace
Lap 3: 2:17:51 8:16
Lap 4: 2:15:35 8:08
Lap 5: 2:22:31 8:32
Lap 6: 2:23:37 8:37
Average moving pace: 8:00 per mile
Total Stoppage time: 19 minutes 36 seconds
Average HR: 159 bpm
Total Steps: 134,112
Average Cadence: 164
Elevation Gain: 594’
Minimum Temp: 34F
Max Temp: 70F
Nike Zoom Fly: miles 1-36
Nike Vapor Fly 4%: miles 36-100 *These shoes were awesome and the first time I’ve completed a hundred miles without losing a toenail. Could have used a bit more traction in the muddy areas but in the end they did the job.
Drymax – I used their tri sock with a crew sock to begin the race, and then lite-mesh for the middle, and changed to the hyper thin for the last portion. Best socks on the market!! No blisters and feet are in great condition.
Shorts: Salomon EXO TwinSkin
Hydration: Mainly water with Klean Hydration which was legit and settled well on my stomach. I was able to mix this with gels and not have any issues.
Nutrition: 25+ Huma Gels and a bottle of Tailwind occasionally. A small cup of gummy bears, pickles, ramen noodles, and cup of mashed potatoes.
Other: Run Gum for some extra caffeine and mental alertness.
Watch: Gamin Fenix 3
23rd Annual Umstead 100 – April 1, 2017
Finished 2nd overall: 14:43:38
Lap 1: 6 a.m. start time
Decent morning in the lower to mid-50’s and low humidity at William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh, NC. It was a pretty chill start for me and I followed another runner, Owen Bradley, as I wasn’t familiar with the start of the course. I actually got to the starting line 30 seconds before the race began. The race started the opposite direction than I thought and I was positioned in the very back. All good though as I was warmed up and ready to go.
We had a lead-out cyclist riding with us and he was very courteous, letting us choose the best path to run.
He sat back for the most part, but made sure to ride one full loop so we knew the course. It would be very difficult to get lost on this course as it’s basically around the perimeter of the park. The effort was definitely controlled and felt fine. I was a little surprised nobody else ran with us. I figured it made more sense to run the first half a little quicker and back off the pace on the back half of the course with the majority of the hills.
My family crewed for me at this race which was a lot of fun. My father and sister were stationed just before Aid Station 2 (~mile 6.5). Just as I have done in other races, I exchanged my handheld bottle with them. They would hand me another bottle including my nutrition of Huma Gels, which allowed me to pass through the main aid stations without stopping or wasting much time. There were other water stations every couple miles on the course, but it was cool enough in the morning to pass these up and make it to the main aid stations. I settled down on the back half of the course where the steepest climbs were. I did a mix of power-hiking and running on some sections to keep the legs as fresh as possible for later. Owen pulled away and opened up a 90 second gap on the hills. At the end of the lap I would come by mom and wife and do a turnaround at the start/finish line. I finished each lap drinking coconut water and exchanging my handheld bottle with them.
12.50 miles 1:34:02 (7:31 pace)
Owen took a little longer than me refueling and I ended up beginning the second lap ahead of him. He and another runner, Greg Jones eventually caught up with me. We ran a few miles together before they picked up the pace. I felt like the right thing to do was back off and run my own race. Plus, they were most likely going for the 50 miles. I kept my attention on taking care of myself with hydration and nutrition. Greg wasn’t carrying a water bottle so he was relying heavily on the unmanned aid stations. I had a feeling I would be seeing him sooner than later.
I was able to use the bathroom every 14 miles or so. I monitored fluid this way and tried getting in more as it was going to be a warm day with highs in the upper 70’s. I passed my dad and sister again and was surprised to see an old friend, Brian Clark, from my childhood that I probably haven’t seen in 15-20 years. He lives outside the park and was checking out the race. Pretty cool to see him out there.
I caught up with Owen and Greg as they stopped at AS-2 and Greg took a bathroom break. It was Owen and I again on the back half and this time I stayed with him, or he stayed with me. As we were a mile out from the start/finish area I had a boost of energy likely from the caffeine in my Huma Gel. I pulled away and had a really quick in-and-out transition that put a few minutes gap on him. It was always fun running into the start/finish area as the crowd was very energetic and cheering for all the runners coming through.
25 miles 3:09:46 (7:39 pace/lap)
It was beginning to warm up, but still manageable. I had a four-minute lead at this point on second place and ten-minute lead on the top five. I backed off a bit on the pace from earlier and kept up with my nutrition plan. Don’t remember much of anything crazy or exciting about this lap. Trails were getting busier with pedestrians, and I was beginning to lap runners. It wasn’t a problem as there was plenty of trail to share.
Coming into the start/finish I got rid of my shirt and refueled with coconut water. I also began taking a few Klean Athlete Electrolytes pills per aid station so about every hour. Each pill contains Vitamin B-6, Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, and Sodium Chloride.
At this point I now had a four-minute lead going out on the fourth lap and that grew to eight minutes as the other runners were taking longer in transition. On this course, it is easy to monitor others and know how far ahead or behind they are as there is a total of five miles of out and back trails.
37.50 miles 4:50:00 (8:01 pace/lap)
Lap 4: I was content with my effort up to this point and knew there was a lot of running left to do. It was also beginning to warm up which would result in me slowing down a bit. I tried to run the sections that had the most shade to keep cool, even if it meant not running the tangents. I adjusted my pace accordingly and felt good overall with the warmer temperatures. It felt like I did the right amount of heat acclimation leading up to this day, and it was playing to my favor. I was finishing a full bottle of fluids by five miles and was now beginning to use the unmanned aid stations located every couple miles. I would top off the bottle and had plenty to keep me hydrated before switching bottles with my crew at 44-1/2 miles.
50 miles 6:36:45 (8:33 pace/lap)
Four down and happy to be halfway done. My legs were definitely feeling it more and running another seven hours was going to be a daunting task. The halfway point for me is where I have my low points in a race so I knew it was going to be a tough lap. I noticed one guy, #5 Olivier Leblond, was starting to gain on me as I was leaving the start/finish area and he was just a few minutes behind by the turnaround point. It was another 3-1/2 miles before he would catch and pass me on an uphill section. I wasn’t too concerned as there is a lot of racing to do and I felt like I had plenty in the tank for later.
I was dealing with more pain now and starting to back off quite a bit. My watch died at 53 miles which was frustrating because I wasn’t able to check pace and other information. It was helpful knowing when to take gels. Fortunately, they had the course marked for the first 12 miles and I could tell by distance and estimated pace how often to take my nutrition. Olivier put a two-minute gap on me over the next couple miles so he was holding a steady pace. He had a really good turnover and was clipping along quite effortlessly. It was the first time I stopped at an aid station (mile 57) and asked for Aleve or Excedrin. I was trying to go as long as I could without taking anything, but figured it wasn’t going to get any better and may get worse. I took a couple and went on my way. My legs were taking a beating on the hills on the back half.
62.50 miles 8:32:58 (9:17 pace/lap)
Olivier’s lead grew to 9 minutes so he was basically a minute per mile faster. I took a little extra time at the start/finish aid station to make sure I was still getting plenty of fluids and asked for my iPod. Poured a cup of ice in my shorts to get my core temperature down. I left with a little bit of frustration as I faded quite a bit that previous lap and things were getting tougher. I knew the next 38 miles were about to hurt so I pulled the visor down low, cranked up the music, and ran a brisk pace. I got into a good rhythm and tried to make up some of the time I lost. I did the best I could to tune out the discomfort I had been feeling and it seemed to be working. I didn’t know how fast I was running and it would have been nice to see my splits. At the halfway point, I made up some time on Olivier, but didn’t seem like much.
My niece was at the AS-2 crew spot so it was good to see her. She cheered me up and ran a little bit with me. I kept going and went pretty hard on the back half. The leg pain was starting to come back and it was primarily the quads from the steeper descents. I was still behind about nine minutes or so going into the start/finish aid station and Olivier was looking good leaving. My legs were toast and feeling it from that hard effort on the hills. It was like it hit me out of nowhere and I was dreading another four hours of running. I asked for another Excedrin at the aid station and started walking back to where my crew was. This was the lowest point of the day as there was an overwhelming amount of emotions going through my head. It’s hard to control the negativity during these times and stay focused on what your main goals are. I knew I needed to take a break before going out on the next loop. I had to focus on the big picture and what I wanted to achieve this year as well as future races like Badwater-135. It helped knowing third place was close to 40 minutes behind so I could relax a bit and take care of myself. I laid down and elevated my legs while talking things over with my wife and mom. My quads were shot and it was going to be about finishing on the podium and hopefully not getting bumped off. My wife had been in touch with my friends that crewed the last couple races and they were offering some good advice. She also spoke to a guy across from them that was available to pace me due to his runner dropping out. I knew right away I was going to need additional support to get through this. I chilled out for a couple more minutes and took him up on his offer. I put on a white shirt and a buff that we soaked with cold water to keep me cool. I changed my crew socks and put on the Drymax Thin Mesh socks. My feet were doing great with no blisters, but felt it was a good plan to put on a fresh pair for the last 25 miles.
75 miles 10:26:29 (9:04 pace/lap)
Carter (pacer) and I went on our way and it was nice to run with someone I’ve never met before. He was from Norfolk, VA area and had quite a bit of ultra-experience. We shared stories and kept plugging away on the first half of the course. It was helpful to take mind off the monotony of running. I saw family again at AS-2 and we stopped to get more food this time at the main aid station. I’m not one for trying new things during a race, but felt like I had nothing to lose at this point and would be better off getting in more calories. I drank some chicken broth and Carter took a bag of pickles and another with cantaloupe. My plan was to power-hike the hills and run the flats and downhills. I ate the solid food (pickles and cantaloupe) during the slower pace on the uphills. We eventually completed this loop and I was in much better spirits. I took some more solid food at the start/finish AS, had some more broth, and drank a cup of pickle juice. Also ditched the shirt and buff and went out for the final loop.
87.50 miles 12:40:03 (10:41 pace/lap)
We were behind about 40 minutes on the leader and I had probably that much time over third place. Our goal was to complete this last lap in two hours or less which would be a minute faster per mile than the last. We didn’t focus a whole lot on the actual pace but kept moving in an urgent manner. I wanted to make up as much time in the front half because I knew the hills were going to be rough. I was having to stop and stretch every mile as my legs were getting too tight and aching. We made a quick stop at AS-2 and refilled bottles with cold water. It was a relief knowing there was five miles remaining. I ran the hills this time and blocked out the pain as much as I could. I would spray down my head, face, and upper body with the ice-cold water to keep my alertness high. I now had to stop about every half mile to stretch my quads, but it was helping and I was able to run better this way. The uphills were more of a relief than the long downhills. I was running about 90 seconds per mile going up than on flatter sections. With two miles to go we picked up the pace and kicked it in. Carter pushed me the last mile and it was all I could do to keep up. It was a huge help and I’m glad he was around to help me fight through those last 25 miles.
100 miles 14:43:38 (9:53 pace/lap) 8:50 overall pace
Overall, I think I had a good performance, but definitely have some takeaways which is what I try do work on and improve.
Race Day Gear:
Shoes: Hoka Claytons
Shorts: Salomon S-Lab EXO twinskin
Socks: Drymax Trail Crew and Lite Mesh
Water Bottle: Handheld Ultimate Direction
Watch: Garmin Fenix 3
This was a very well put on race and the entire staff and volunteers did an amazing job. Rhonda Hampton, the Race Director provided a first-class event, and it was evident that she was focused on making sure all the runners needs were met. I will definitely recommend this race to others and hope to come back some point in the future to race again.
My crowd support was growing throughout the day. These two munchkins are the kids of my brother-in-law’s family.
Best Crew Chief! #TeamDelzer
Discussing the race with the overall winner Olivier Leblond. He won the USATF 24 Hour Championships last year, which earned him a spot on the US Team. The World Championships are this summer in Ireland.
Always time for selfies with these pretty ladies. My sister on the left, and my wife on the right.
My father and I. He was past-President of The North Carolina Road Runners Club in the mid-80’s.
It was very comforting having my family involved and supporting me all day. They did a really great job keeping me on the go and making it easier for me.
Leading up to Race Day:I had planned to run Rocky Raccoon 100 for a while as it’s a special race
I had planned to run Rocky Raccoon 100 for a while as it’s a special race to me. I ran in 2015 which was my first hundred and finished third that year in the championship race (report). This would be my third one hundred miler which would allow me to meet the qualifying standards to apply for Badwater 135. Unfortunately, this year the application process closed two days before this race. I waited until Friday afternoon before the pre-race meeting to register in person. The main reason for that is I didn’t want to be on the radar and felt an advantage going into the race if my competition wasn’t aware I was running. I laid low for a couple weeks prior and went stealth on Strava and quiet on social media. Since I’m active on Strava and keep a blog with race reports someone could easily see my fitness and learn about my racing tactics. Not sure if it made a difference or not, but I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself and it was nice to keep my focus on other things. The week of the race I heard from a couple friends that Zach Bitter and Mario Mendoza were running. Then on Thursday I found out both Paul Terranova and Mario Macias were running. I confirmed on Friday that all four guys were signed up.
Following Brazos Bend 100 in December I managed to get in some decent training. I would have preferred a couple higher volume weeks, but I wanted to make sure I allowed my body a chance to recover. I was dealing with a few aches and pains so I wanted to make sure I didn’t overdo it. For the most part I was able to manage it with frequent visits to my sports doctor, Dr. Clouthier at Alternative Health Center of The Woodlands (http://stephenclouthier.com). I had some really good runs leading up to the taper so I was getting my confidence back about my overall fitness. Things were shaping up nicely for race day. The weather was looking more favorable each day leading up to race day. About ten days out the forecast was showing temperatures in the mid to high 70’s so we were blessed with the conditions we had. It was mid-40’s at the start and mid-50’s for the high with an overcast. I chose to wear my Salomon EXO S-lab twinskin shorts and matching half zip shirt, arm warmers, gloves, toboggan (beanie), and Hoka Challenger ATR 3 shoes.
Loop 1: 2:33:26
The race began at 6 a.m. and I positioned myself to front of the starting line and off to the side. It was a chill start for about five seconds and then Zach Bitter bolts off the front with an immediate reaction by Mario Macias in a hot pursuit. It was very similar to the start at Brazos Bend and these two were on a mission to run it fast. A few others took off into the dark, but I wasn’t able to recognize who they were. I held back at a comfortable pace with a plan to run 7:40 – 8 minute miles per loop. In this first section the trails are covered in roots as you run through the forest. I was most comfortable at a low 8-minute pace and able to choose the best part of the trails to run on. I wasn’t chasing the American Record so I held back hoping to run with a few people and relax for the first half of the race. There were a couple guys 10 meters up on me and maybe one or two behind me. I caught up with those two around the fifth mile and ran close enough to hear them talking. I heard one of the guys, Matt Urbanski, talk about taking a more conservative approach this year and running even splits. That was a similar plan I had so I made a mental note of that and saved it for later.
I started to pull away on the jeep road leading to Dam Nation (mile 6). On the out and back section I could see a headlamp and eventually caught up with the female leader Sabrina Little. We chatted for a bit and were both wondering where Paul Terranova was as we were expecting him to be running this pace. By the time I got back to Dam Nation (mile 12) I ditched my headlamp with Kyle and traded my water for a bottle of Tailwind. Kyle stated that Mario Mendoza was ahead about a minute and I was in sixth place overall. I wasn’t expecting to see Mario this soon as I figured he would be running a lot faster. For him to back off the lead pack meant he was running a smart race and planning to conserve energy early on. I never met Mario before or raced against him, but I knew he was running the race and was aware of his abilities. He has quite a few podium finishes at these USATF championship races. However, this is his longest race ever so I felt comfortable racing him with my experience. I opened up my stride on the jeep road and ran a few miles at 7 flat which felt really good and a nice change of pace. This section is a smoother with very few roots and has a mix of sand and some compact surfaces. Mario was also running a similar pace. If I got too close to him I backed off or stopped to use the bathroom and stretch a little to allow him to stay further ahead. I didn’t want to run with him which allowed me to remain calm and focus on my race. I ended up getting another bottle of Tailwind from Peter at Park Rd. aid station (mile 16). This last four miles of the loop has a lot of roots and the last two miles of it is the same trails as the first part of the course. I focused on my footing and backed off the pace to 8 minute miles. The leaders came blazing through as we were approaching a mile remaining to the start/finish area and they were up by 10 minutes. It was Zach Bitter, followed by Mario Macias, and James Stewart. During this time, I stopped focusing on the trails as much and jabbed my left foot into a decent size root which resulted in a quick blow to the ground. My toe took a beating on that and it lit me up. I was upset with myself as I was limping a bit and hoping the pain would wear off. In a minute or two I didn’t notice it as much and was in the start/finish area for a quick transition.
Loop 2: 2:34:24
My goal for the second loop was to try and run a similar pace and effort as the first. I went with feel and didn’t pay too much attention to what my splits were. Mario seemed to be running a little quicker in the first section of trails to the Nature Center aid station (23 miles) so I let him go and stayed a minute or two back. It felt more comfortable to sit back and run my own race. When I came into Dam Nation aid station I dropped off my arm sleeves and gloves with Kyle and switched bottles. I stuck with my nutrition plan of consuming a Huma Gel every 30 minutes and Tailwind as needed to get extra calories. I also took some Klean Electrolyte pills at mile 36 going into Park Rd. aid station. Klean Athlete has an assortment of supplements that are safe and free of banned substances. I started the day with their BCAA +ATP drink which provides a good boost of energy. While at Park Rd. I found out that someone dropped and I figured it was Zach Bitter as I heard he rolled his ankle on a root. I was able to confirm that on the out and back section when I saw the leaders going out on their second loop. It was Mario Macias and James Stewart at the front. This was a smooth second loop for me and my overall time was two seconds faster than my first loop. Mentally I felt great and thought it would be incredible if I could pull this off the entire run. My goal was to keep the difference between loops within 10 minutes. At the start/finish area Mendoza was a minute ahead.Loop 3: 2:51:20
Loop 3: 2:51:20
Going out for the third loop I was 11 minutes up on Urbanski and feeling good. My watch started showing my pace at 3-4 minutes per mile and I couldn’t figure out what was going. I figured it was a weak GPS signal and not sure what to do for it to record accurately. I didn’t have any good splits for a few miles and went off feel. My big toe was starting to hurt from the fall earlier and I was feeling some knee pain. As I approached Dam Nation (mile 46) I got a new bottle with Kyle and told him to have my Hoka Clayton’s ready to change into the next time I came around. I was wearing the Hoka Challenger ATR 3’s which gave me plenty of traction, but I wanted to see if the Claytons would feel different with my toe hurting more. On this out and back section I was losing energy and my mental strength was beginning to fade quickly. The pain really kicked in with my knee and I wasn’t running with an efficient stride or pep in my step as I had before. I was dealing with some low points and was even questioning myself if this is what I want to be doing and trying to make sense of why I choose to run hundred milers.
I had a bracelet on that I wore to bring me strength when I needed it the most. It’s an awareness bracelet for a young boy in our community, Will Herndon, that was diagnosed with Juvenile Batten Disease at the age of six. This is a rare, fatal, inherited disorder of the nervous system that usually begins in childhood. It’s a disease that affects kids and is usually fatal at the teenage years and into their 20’s. Click here for more information. Will just turned 14 and has to fight every day to stay strong and I knew this bracelet would remind me of Will’s fight. It brought me strength to keep pushing when I needed it the most. I was also talking to the man upstairs to keep me safe and strong and praying to get through this rough patch.
I eventually completed that miserable seven miles and made it back to Dam Nation (mile 53) where I was able to change shoes. I told Kyle I needed something for the pain, but to find something other than Advil or Ibuprofen as that messed me up in 2015. He came back with Tylenol and Aleve so I went with Aleve. I was nine minutes behind Mendoza and I asked Kyle to find out how far Urbanski was and to let Peter know so he could pass it on to me. On the jeep road after Dam Nation I was starting to get my second wind again. Jason Bryant who was doing some videos and tracking for USA Trail Running was on this section and did a short interview with me (click to watch video). This was about the time I was running normal again and able to open my stride. The pain went away and I was in good spirits again. At Park Road aid station Peter said I was eight minutes back on Mendoza, and Urbanski was five minutes behind me. I was moving at a solid pace again and hoping I could make up some of the time I lost so I ran through this wooded area with a sense of urgency. I saw Macias come by and he looked fine and had something close to 24 minutes up on me. I somehow missed James when going to the start line. I found out he had changed shirts and that’s how I didn’t notice him. I was gaining on Mendoza and now only six minutes back.
Loop 4: 2:44:41
Click here for footage of my transition and start of fourth loop. I managed to put some time between myself and Urbanski. My lead was now about 11 minutes as he was headed into the
start/finish area. I entered the Nature Center aid station (mile 63) and Peter gave me an update on the field. I was 10-1/2 minutes behind James, 4-1/2 minutes behind Mendoza, and Macias dropped. I was shocked and couldn’t believe it as this moved me into third overall. Peter yelled at me “Run Your Race” as I was going into the woods. Apparently, he had been telling me this all day, but this time it stuck and I decided it might be wise to back down a bit as there was still a lot racing to do. I had another conversation with God and it was reassurance to ease the pace and be patient.
Somewhere between the Nature Center and Dam Nation my watch battery died. Fortunately, I was very close to Dam Nation (mile 66) and I met my first Safety Runner, Ken Rieger. He stayed behind me which allowed me to choose the best part of the trail and move around as needed. I was only a couple minutes behind Mendoza so knew it was a matter of time before we would catch him. I enjoy running with Ken because we’ve done a lot of running together over the years, and he always amazes me with being able to identify birds. I learned about the Belly Warbler, Chickadee, and some woodpecker (cannot remember the name). It’s a nice break to get your mind on something else when you have been going at it for this long. We caught up with Mario at mile 68 and I waited for an open area to pass him. I told Ken I was going to make a move and to tell me when it had been five minutes. We surged by Mendoza until we had a comfortable margin ahead of him. I looked back and didn’t see any sign so felt comfortable backing it down to a more sustainable effort. Ken was keeping track of time now so I would remember to take a gel every half hour and not go too long without fuel. After this wooded section my legs were starting to ache again. I told Kyle at Dam Nation (mile 73) to tell Peter to have some Aleve ready for me to take at Park Road. I was also beginning to chafe and knew I needed to do something to prevent some serious problems later. I took a gob of Vaseline and robbed it all in my shorts. It was quite messy and felt disgusting.
Peter told me that we were 9 minutes back on James. I wasn’t really chasing him because my motto all day was “let them come to me”. I had the mindset that if things continued to work out the way they had been that I might be in a good position towards the end to make a move. I was feeling good and quickly moved through the four-mile section to the start/finish area. We saw James blow by us in the opposite direction and he was probably about 7 minutes ahead of me on the final loop. When I was in the start/finish area I found out he took a two-minute break so I was doing the math and figured we were running a similar pace. I had heard earlier in the day about him running 160 miles in 24 hours so I knew he wasn’t going to fade much.
Loop 5: 3:01:37
I picked up a new runner, Michael Young, who has done some crewing for me before. I was trying to run at a comfortable effort for the first few miles to stay safe on this section of trails. A couple miles in I realized I didn’t grab my headlamp. Fortunately, Kyle was meeting me at the Nature Center (mile 83) and he had my headlamp as he would be running with me for the last 16 miles. At Dam Nation (mile 68) I was six minutes back on James so things were headed in the right direction. I felt like I was moving good headed out to the turnaround point, but once it got dark I had to slow it down. Kyle was keeping track of time and it seemed like we had been on this out and back stretch for the longest time. I swear the roots were growing and the trail was getting longer. Knowing that Bitter’s race was ended by a root, I didn’t want to risk too much as I was leading the championship race. I had something get in my shoe so as we approached Dam Nation (mile 93) I told Kyle I was going to stop to take off it off and get the pine straw or whatever it was out. I was also craving real food. I got some Ramen noodles and mashed potatoes and spent the most amount of time at this aid station. I found out I was five minutes behind James, but I wasn’t sure how far back Urbanski was so I wanted to keep moving.
With five miles to go I dropped the hammer and started to chase after first place. I blew through the trails with a sense of urgency and felt really strong. I was pouring water from my bottle all over me to keep my mind alert and body cool. I figured that maybe I could put a minute per mile on him and hopefully catch him for a fight to the finish. We blew through Dam Nation (mile 96) and grabbed another bottle of water from Peter. The water was cold and felt amazing to spray on my head and neck. I was running strong and going faster through this section than I had all day. With a few miles to go we were back on the heavily rooted trails and I took a hard fall. I didn’t get up so quick from that one and it stung. I tried to pick it up again and fell a couple more times. I was now starting to get annoyed by the roots and frustrated. I wasn’t seeing them maybe due to running too fast and apparently not getting my feet high enough off the ground to avoid them. We decided it was best to take it easy and get to the finish line safely. Kyle did a great job calling out the roots and encouraging me to keep going. He knows these trails better than anyone I know so he knew exactly where we were and when there were climbs coming up. It was nice to have him there calling this stuff out to me. With ¾ of a mile to go we looked at each other with the biggest grins on our faces. We did it! Coming into the last stretch to the finish line I changed into a fresh shirt, removed my head lamp, and ran to the finish line holding my kiddos hands. I was tickled and a memory I’ll never forget.
Many thanks to everyone who cheered me on and for all your comments during and after the race. I want to give a special shout out to Peter Bardenhagen and Kyle Rodemacher for being a pivotal part of this special day. Without their support this would not have been possible. We were all pretty beat up about my last race and made sure the outcome of this one would be successful. These guys handled it amazingly and made sure I was taken care of and stuck to my plan. It also helped tremendous amount having pacers (“safety runners”) the last 40 miles with Ken Reiger and Michael Young to give me company and make sure I stayed on top of my nutrition. I love having my wife Stefanie and kiddos out there supporting me and cheering me on. It was a very special moment to be able to cross the finish line holding Miles and Kaitlin’s hands and a dream come true. Kaitlin ran the kids trail race that day as well.
Thank you to my coach, Ian Sharman for all the wisdom going into this and believing in me. Thank you to my teammates at Finish Strong Racing. Thank you, Klean Athlete for amazing product to keep me healthy and strong. Thank you, Dr. Clouthier, at Alternative Health Center of the Woodlands for accelerating my recovery and keeping me healthy. Thank you, Huma Gels for my main source of fuel on both training and race days. I had a lovely bagel race morning with cream cheese and a mango gel on top. Yummy! Thank you, Joe Kirk, for the Hoka Challenger shoes to try out. Love them!
Thank you to Chris’ team at Tejas Trails and all the volunteers for putting on an excellent race as usual. I thought it was really cool to choose one of the original belt buckles from back in the day.
Race Day Gear:
Shoes: Hoka Challenger ATR 3 & Hoka Claytons
Shorts: Salomon S-Lab EXO twinskin
Shirt: Matching Salomon top
Water Bottle: Handheld Ultimate Direction
Headlamp: Petzl NAO
Arm Sleeves: Nike
Watch: Garmin Fenix 3
Race Reports and Articles:
I Run Far Review: http://www.irunfar.com/2017/02/this-week-in-running-february-6-2017.html
James Stewart Race Report (1st overall male): https://jamesstewart13.com/2017/02/06/race-report-rocky-raccoon-100/
Sabrina Little Race Report (1st overall female): http://sabrinalittleruns.blogspot.com/?m=1
Do you have what it takes? I’m here to tell you that you’re capable of more than you think. I’m going to share information and my experiences with what it’s like to train for an ultra. My objective is to hopefully scratch a bit more than the surface and give you some good tips and insight into training and preparation.
I’ve been running ultras since 2014 and I refuse to do anything else as this has been a very rewarding and life changing experience. Training and competing in ultras becomes more about the journey and experiences along the way. It’s an opportunity to explore what your body and mind is capable of. It takes a lot of hard work and commitment, and usually the end result is highly rewarding. It doesn’t always go as planned, but the more you prepare up front the higher chances of success you will encounter.
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Brazos Bend 100 Race Report: Dec. 10, 2016.
Not sure you could ask for better weather conditions and a faster course than what we had this weekend at Brazos Bend. It was 38° for the start and the high was upper 50’s. The course was changed to six 16.67 mile loops due to some rain earlier in the week which flooded some sections of the course. I was prepared to go for a course record and also had the hopes of setting an American Record for the fastest 100 miles on a trail. I felt confident going into this race that I would have a good shot at it. My fitness was there, taper was on point, and my body felt extremely well.
I stayed the night at the park with a buddy who was also part of my crew support team, Peter Bardenhagen. It is a relief not having to worry about logistics the morning of the race. I loaded up on carbs the night before and relaxed with my feet up. The alarm was set for 4:30 a.m. and I felt fresh and ready to go race morning. Had some coffee to get the buzz going, ate a banana and half of a bagel to get in a few more calories. I also drank a serving of Klean Athlete BCAA +ATP pre-workout drink and Beet Elite NeoShot.
Once we got all our gear together Peter, Kyle Rodemacher (other crew member/pacer) headed to the start area and got setup. I did an easy warm-up to loosen up and rolled to the start line ready to go. We took off and I quickly settled into a nice effort with Mario Macias, who I did not know at the time. I ran close behind him for a couple miles and then I felt like my effort stayed the same and he dropped back. I was paying attention to my splits and it felt very comfortable so I stayed at that pace.
The first aid station is 40 Acre Lake (4.1 miles) and I blew through there without stopping as I had plenty of fluid and was carrying my nutrition. There is a wooded area just after this aid station so I wanted to get in there quickly and then hopefully be out of sight of the others. I preferred running alone so I could focus on my race and not have to think about what others are doing. It seemed to be working as planned and I was building a gap and running fine. My mantra for the beginning that I repeated to myself was “don’t go fast, don’t give up”. My son came up with this a couple months ago, and it stuck in my head so I used it early on to not go out too quick.
At twelve miles, I had about a three-minute lead over second place and I was in good spirits. My crew had my hydration and nutrition with them so I didn’t have to stop long in the aid stations and waste time. I primarily drank water and was taking about three Huma gels an hour. Towards the end of the first lap I switched to a bottle of Tailwind to get in a few more calories. I went through a half a bottle pretty quick which allowed me to get in 100 additional calories. I took breaks occasionally to use the bathroom and that was also when I would walk for a bit and do some light stretching.
I was wearing a newer pair of Hoka Clayton’s which I absolute love. I was starting to realize they weren’t quite broken in as my feet were sliding in them and I could feel the friction. At the Windmill Aid Station (mile 14.8) I told my Crew to get my other Clayton’s ready for a quick change. I came strolling into the start/finish area (mile 16.67) and was able to quickly change shoes. We had it dialed in and I didn’t waste any time as I was probably out of there within 30 seconds. There was a lot of energy there as a couple hundred half marathoners were about to start. I took off and settled back into my comfortable pace. My feet felt much better in these shoes as they had already formed into the shoe from the additional miles I had on them. I completed the first lap in 1:57:07 (7:01 pace). My goal was to run a 7:10 pace for the first 20 miles and then settle into a slower pace that I could maintain for the middle portion of the race.
At an out and back section of the course around mile 18 I saw Mario and he was now 2:40 behind me. This is where I completely lost focus on my own race and started wondering who this guy was. I was flawless up to this point and he looked great and was moving quick. His stride was clean and he had a fast turnover. I’m thinking to myself that he isn’t stopping either at the aid stations or maybe he is and he is just running faster now. Later I found out from my crew he wasn’t stopping. Instead of slowing down I kept running low 7’s. I wasn’t really checking my pace but I was going on how I felt.
The half marathoners didn’t have to do this out and back section so probably half of them got ahead of us on the course. It wasn’t too bad as the trails were wide enough there and majority of the runners stayed to the right allowing a clear path to run by. I never looked back to see where Mario was and tried to stay comfortable and running as efficiently as possible. The pace still felt effortless and I was staying on top of my nutrition and hydration.
The back half of the course (last 8 miles of the lap) is a long out and back section. This is part of the course that was changed due to some flooding on a couple trails. At the turnaround, I would check my watch so I could know how much time separated us. Mario was now 2 minutes behind and still looking just as good as before. I was now getting irritated. I knew there were a handful of guys with solid results but I didn’t expect anyone to go this quick. It was just us at the front and nobody close behind.
At Windmill aid station (31.5 miles), I told my crew I needed some Vaseline as my toes were bothering me from earlier, and also to get some thinner gloves as it was beginning to warm up a bit. They went ahead and got that ready. I went through the start/finish area (mile 33.34) without stopping and met with them about a half mile afterwards so I could sit at a bench along the trails and take my shoes and socks off. My toes were already blistered so we lubed them up pretty good with Trail Toes (anti blister cream) and I went on my way. I completed lap two in 1:58:15 (7:05 pace).
I was headed back on the out and back section and there was Mario chasing me down and about 1:30 behind. At this point it finally registered in my head to let him catch me so I could focus on something more sustainable. He eventually did around 38 miles and I was relieved to let him go. I began to settle into a 7:30 to 7:45 pace and hung there for the second half of the lap. He put about 3 minutes on me within 8 miles. I was just hoping I would see him later in the race, and if not then be able to congratulate him for one heck of a record breaking run.
On the way back I started getting this burning sensation in my quads (between miles 46-48). It was a feeling I haven’t experienced before and felt like they were on fire. I looked at my legs and my knees were bright red. I just figured it had something to do with the colder temps at the start. It was warming up enough that I wanted to put on a short sleeve shirt so at the Windmill aid station (48 miles) I stopped to change and took some time to walk and stretch a little. I asked my crew to get my foam roller ready at the start/finish area. Now that Mario was ahead I wasn’t as focused on time and rushing. I knew I needed to take care of myself and as long as I kept around 7:30-7:45 pace I would be good. I completed the third lap in 2:07:22 (7:38 pace). 50 miles at 6:02:44
I didn’t stop there and had Kyle meet me just beyond the start/finish area where I stopped the last lap. I took my time and rolled my quads and glutes for a couple minutes. Started walking for a bit and then back to running. After this I never got back into a rhythm I once had and things unraveled very quickly. I was able to run a low 8-minute mile but had to stop due to them aching. I walked a little more to hopefully allow my legs to loosen up. It felt like I blew my quads and I was unable to run without pain. I couldn’t figure out what was going on and wasn’t able to make any sense of it. It’s not a hilly course which is usually where you’ll experience this. It was frustrating and very disappointing. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run decent the second half and that I had did too much damage. All I could think about was how much time I would be on my feet for another 48 miles. I knew I wouldn’t want to walk that long which is likely another 10-12 hours.
I walked the next few miles to mile 56 where the start/finish area is and called it a day. Kyle gave me the phone to speak to my wife and she was just as upset. She knows how much I put into this race and that I wanted this so bad. I felt worse about staying on the course and having the family waiting for me all night. I tossed the bib in a trash bag and waited for my friends doing their first 50 milers to come in. They had about ten miles to go so another 1-1/2 to 2 hours remaining. While waiting around I propped my legs up to elevate them for a while and had some time to reflect on the day. I was really bothered with the fact that this is my second DNF at this race.
Seeing my friends finish and persevere through their first 50-mile race and another in good spirits going out for his final loop made me regret my decision to quit. There were others on the course dealing with more challenges than me. Just a few out there grinding it out that resonated with me was an Air Force Veteran with an above the knee running prosthesis, a guy dragging a tire behind him on a rope, and a guy in a wheel chair.
I recognized a guy, Patrick Sweeney, who I met at the Badwater-135 race this year. We talked about Badwater and it made me realize how bad I wanted to do that race. That was the moment I started thinking about the possibility of finishing. My legs actually felt decent and not as stiff as they did earlier. I went to the parking lot to try a test run and there was no pain. I wasn’t as fresh as earlier but I could run which made me feel much more optimistic. I did the math on some scenarios and thought if I came back out at night I could run and try to finish under 24 hours. I spoke to Rob the RD about restarting later and he was totally cool with it as long as I checked in with him and continued where I stopped. I’m now thinking how I’m going to explain this to my wife and was very nervous about her reaction. I grabbed both of her hands, looked her in the eyes like I was about to propose to her, and told her my idea of coming back out after the kids went to bed. She was super supportive and was all for it. She knows how hard I worked for this and how bad I wanted it.
The plan was to pack up and head back to the camper and then come back out at 9 or 10 p.m. when the kids were ready for bed. The kids had fun at the camp site and we took them to the Nature Center and around Elm Lake to look for alligators. We went back to the camper and started making dinner. I cleaned up, ate a light dinner, and then kicked my feet up and rested. I laid in my NormaTec Compression boots and closed my eyes for about 20-30 minutes. At that time, I spoke to Kyle who was going to pace me and we decided to start sooner so that we could get back an hour or two earlier than expected and hopefully get some sleep before having to drive home. We got everything together that we thought we would need for the night. I had to tape my toes because of the blisters and wore a more cushioned shoe. I chose the Hoka Mafate Speed which I figured would be better for more time on my feet and not being able to see as easy what I would be stepping on in the dark. I also had quite a bit of chafing from earlier so lubed up pretty good before going.
Once we packed up we went back out to the start/finish area a little after 8 p.m. Kyle checked in and picked up his pacer bib and I gave a heads up to the RD that we were about to continue. We had 44 miles to go and had to first complete 10 miles of the fourth lap which is my least favorite. It’s mentally tough because the majority of this section is a long out and back. You expect the turnaround to be a lot closer than it is. At about 2.5 miles in you make a hard-left turn onto another trail and you think it’s a mile until the turn around and it’s closer to two miles. It’s pitch black and seems never ending. This is the part in the first lap where my feet were rubbing in my shoes wrong. When we made it to the first aid station, Windmill (mile 59.4), I took my shoes and socks off and rubbed some more Trail Toes on my feet for extra protection. I had not tried this product before this day, but it seemed to work well.
We cruised along at an 8:30 pace which felt quick and I was not sure if it would be sustainable. The aid stations are just under a few miles apart on the back half so we took time at those to rest and eat before going again. I was ok with the quicker pace at first because I wanted to get back to the start/finish area before it got too late so I could text my wife and catch her before she went to sleep wouldn’t have to worry.
There is something more special about running at night. It’s the experience of being in the middle of nowhere and you are surrounded by the wild. We saw alligators (in the water), armadillos, and heard quite a few noises from birds and other animals. It also helps because you are usually running slower and the focus is on finishing rather than running a certain time. I paced Kyle eleven months’ prior at Rocky Raccoon 100 in Huntsville Texas for his final lap and it was in the middle of the night. He ended up destroying his quads in that race and walked the last 50 miles to finish sub 24. It was ironic that we were in a similar situation. For me (pacing him) it was a blast although he was in a lot of pain at the time. You really get to see how tough the other person is and how determined they are to conquer their goals. This time he was returning the favor and it’s amazing having someone there to help you get through it.
It felt like it had warmed up so after completing the lap I got rid of my arm sleeves and gloves. It was a lot warmer at 10 p.m. then it was when I was running earlier in the day. We looked at the time completed and it was close to 10 hours for the fourth lap (mile 66.68). It was amusing because I had the fastest lap of the day and the slowest lap of the day. Now we settled into a slower pace between 9-10 minute miles for the fourth lap. Kyle used his headlamp and I turned mine off because we still weren’t sure how long we would be out there and unsure how long the batteries would last.
We made it to 40 Acre Lake aid station (mile 70.78) and I chowed down on some Ramen noodles, gummy bears, and M&M’s. It was good to get some solid food in and switch it up a bit as I cannot eat much other than gels when I’m running fast. I was still taking two Huma Gels (with Caffeine) an hour to make sure I had enough calories. After stopping for a bit I was noticing things were starting to get stiff so we kept on moving. We maintained that pace for the first six miles of the fifth loop and then picked it up for the back half. My legs were getting tired and I was having some discomfort along the outer part of my calves. It was a good thing we turned off one headlamp because Kyle’s was already flashing which means the battery is low. His light wasn’t bright but it was enough to complete the fifth loop. We talked about him stopping after this loop since that was a marathon for him and he had not planned to do more than 16 miles. He had his bike in his truck so he got it while I continued and was going to ride out on the course and meet me out there. I completed the fifth loop (mile 83.35) in 2:55:42 (10:36 pace).
Since I was running solo I took my iPod with me and listened to music. I started out easy around a ten minute mile and then gradually got quicker the second mile. Kyle found a massive turtle shell that he wanted to show the kids so he took it bike back to his truck and said he would meet up with me. I thought it would be fun to pick up the pace and see how long it would take for him to catch up with me. I started to get into a rhythm and was able to hold 8-1/2 to 9-minute pace for the next five miles. Kyle finally caught me before going out for the final 10 miles. That hard effort really took a toll on my legs and things were beginning to hurt a lot more. I started to walk again and my legs felt like they did earlier in the day when I stopped. I tried to run but I was really stiff and it was painful to my quads. I was doing the math in my head and figuring that walking would be around 16 minutes a mile. At that pace it would be another hour and I was tired and ready to get it over with. I tried to change up my form and run differently to hopefully relieve some of the pressure on the quads but it didn’t do much.
We made it to Windmill aid station (mile 92.71) and I sat in a chair and massaged my legs. It hurt to start going again and reminded me of the discomfort I felt during the 12 hour treadmill run when I stopped and started again. I walked for a mile with Kyle and noticed quite a few head lamps coming back in. Not sure how many of these runners were on their final lap with four miles to go, but I thought if I could run again I could potentially catch them as they were walking. Throughout the night we were paying attention to my overall ranking and asking race staff what place I was in. When I started that evening, I was around 65th and now I was probably close to 30th.
It took me everything I had to get moving again but I was determined to run. It reminded me of the scene in Forrest Gump when he is a kid and being chased by bullies. He has leg braces on and has to run with his legs locked and then finally breaks out of the braces. It felt just like that. I was going to do whatever it took to get to the finish as quick as I could and catch as many people over the last seven miles. I was only able to run 9:30 to 10-minute pace for the first four miles and it seemed like I was sprinting. My mantra was “don’t stop, don’t give up” and I had to say that a few times in my head. I also had the music replaying on certain songs that allowed me to tune out the discomfort. I was sweating like crazy as it warmed up quite a bit since we started so I took off my shirt to stay cool. I would often spray my face, head, and back with cold water to keep me more alert. My headlamp also started flashing with about five miles to go and the light began to dim so it was harder to see the trails.
We made it to Sawmill aid station (mile 95.41) to refill bottles really quick and off I went. I had to run a ten-minute mile to break 22 hours. I picked up the pace to a little over an eight-minute mile pace and gutted it out to the finish. I’m glad I pushed it and was able to gain some more mental strength from this effort. I caught quite a few people on the way back in and didn’t slow down until I crossed the finish line. Total finish time was 21:56:07 and finished 29th overall. Sixth lap was 2:52:01 (10:19 pace).
Unfortunately, this wasn’t my day but I accomplished one of my goals which was to finish. I put it out there and paid the consequences for not sticking to my race plan. I’ve learned a lot in this hundred and fortunately I have a pretty good short term memory that will allow me to put this behind and move on to the next one.
First half splits and data on STRAVA (click here)
This is the Race Director Rob Goyen and me with my sub 22-hour belt buckle. He did a fabulous job managing the race and catering to the runners. The dude stayed out there from start to finish (30+ hours) and put on one heck of a race for us. He has an awesome team and some amazing volunteers working to ensure these races are a success. I look forward to doing more TROT racing in the future.
I am so thankful for having a supportive wife that believes in my dreams and encourages me along the way. She is my biggest cheerleader and wanted to be out there so bad to watch me run at night. This is moments before going back out that evening to complete the race. Best friends for life!
Special thanks to both Peter Bardenhagen and Kyle Rodemacher for supporting me. They did a lot of planning before this race which made my job easy. We had this thing figured out and it went so smooth it really was incredible. I have since given them permission to yell at me or stop me next time I pull a stunt like that in the first half of a race. Glad to have these guys crewing for me.