Saturday, December 05, 2015
37th Overall 7:32:16
Checking out the course:
Since this is the first ultra-trail race outside of Texas for me and in a hillier part of the country I allowed some time to do some course planning with my crew. My support team happens to be my wife Stefanie, Michael Young, and his wife Stephanie. Michael and I both wanted to see the aid stations that the support crews are allowed to be at (8.7 miles, 27.7 miles, 44 miles) to assist runners during the race. We brought the wives along to see the beautiful pacific coast and hopefully receive good feedback (never happened) on our driving ability through the never ending turns up and down the mountains (I call these hills, mountains). Once we figured out where exactly the aid stations were located Michael and I went for an easy run on the hillier part of the course at those areas. Since I don’t have hills like this to train on and most of my vertical training was on a treadmill, it was very important for me to actually run up some of the trails to get a better feel for effort required and mentally prepare for the day ahead. It was good to be on the course at pretty much the same time of the day that I would be out there during the race so I could determine if I needed any changes to my running attire as this is just a little over half way through the race. We went over a few logistics and pretty much had a plan for me getting into and out of this aid station quickly with everything I may need. The other aid station that the crew team is allowed is at Tennessee Valley. This happens to be the first and last aid stations for crewing. Coming into this aid station at miles 8.7 is going to be quick but also be dark since it will still be 6 a.m. We figured out where our exchange point would be and then ran most of the last climb of the course. It was important to see what I would be facing for the last hill so I could mentally prepare myself. Knowing the splits of elite runners from last year (thanks to Strava), helped me have a better gauge for the level of effort needed to run this hill. The last portion of the course we checked out was the start/finish area. It would have been stressful waiting until the morning of the race figuring out where to go. We worked out the potential logistical challenges with race morning parking and adjusted our wake up time as well as travel arrangements to the race.
I didn’t feel like I had the greatest night sleep but who does when the alarm is set for 3 a.m. My body was still on central time so it didn’t feel that early. I had my stuff ready to go so I got dressed, made some coffee, and we met Michael and Stephanie in the lobby. It was nice they were staying at the same hotel as he generously offered to drive us to the race. It was one less thing to worry about and I was able to relax and not have to think about a whole lot other than eat a little food. We were only a 20 minute drive from the park and I don’t particularly care to show up to a race this early, but we didn’t want to risk not being able to park close or take a chance with slow traffic entering the park. Once we arrived I did my normal pre-race rituals, had a little warm-up stroll, and drank a BeetElite Neo Shot. As I was sitting around waiting and studying the course map and elevation chart I decided to trace a copy of the elevation chart on my left arm, identifying miles for the peaks of the climbs. I’ve seen guys before with temporary tattoos on their arm which was basically what I was trying to do. It was nice to have so I wouldn’t have to guess where the hills were or how many there were in case I got confused or forgot.
Start – Tennessee Valley Aid Station (mi 8.7)
It was time to line up at the starting line and I hung off to the side talking to Michael while everyone came into the Elite coral. It was cool seeing some of the biggest names in the sport at the front and the comradery these guys shared. My plan for the day was to let the lead pack of runners go off the front and stay within myself for the majority of the race. Somewhere towards 35-40 miles I would push the pace and hopefully race hard until the end. The ideal scenario would be to catch and pass some of the front pack that went out too hard. I would need a perfectly executed race to attain my goal of sub-7 hours.
I started exactly as I had planned which was an easy effort as I just sat at the back of the pack of about 50 runners. The first mile is a slight downhill (6:37 pace) and then begins the first climb of the day. It wasn’t that steep and seemed to be a runnable hill. I was probably the first to walk but that was what I had prepared to do. If I didn’t feel like the effort was sustainable for 50 miles then I would adjust my pace to whatever it needed to be. I had enough power-hiking experience from my training that I could do so at a decent pace and could conserve more energy if I alternated power-hiking and running. The main group got ahead of me early, but I was still with a good number of guys. Once we reached the top of the hill we really started to cruise going down. It was already 4 miles and time to take a gel. I had two gels in my handheld bottle pouch and as I unzipped and went to pull one out I tripped on a rock and was on the ground before I knew it. My hands made contact first with the ground but my chest took a lot of the impact as well. I checked to make sure my head lamp was still on my head and immediately got back up and kept going. I was more embarrassed about the situation because I couldn’t believe I made a mistake this early on. I was carrying plenty of gels on my waist and could have easily grabbed one of those, but lesson learned. I felt a little discomfort on my left big toe which is what made contact with the rock, and my palms were a bit sore. Anyways we made it to the bottom (5:45 pace) and started the second climb. I did the same as the first hill and power-hiked with portions of easy running. This is where the main pack got out of sight and only one or two of us were together. The pace of these guys running wasn’t much faster than me walking and I was happy saving energy. We again cruised downhill (6:25 pace) for a couple miles into Tennessee Valley which is the first aid station with crew support. That seemed to go flawless and I was in and out of there with a new bottle and more gels. Average pace 7:18/mile for first nine miles.
Tennessee Valley- Stinson Beach (mi 27.7)
About a half mile after this I missed one of the turns and went right by a “wrong way” sign. Fortunately the guy behind me was close and got my attention otherwise it would have been a disaster. We introduced ourselves and started running together. There were a few guys about 100 yards further ahead so I picked up the pace to bridge the gap to make it a little easier running just behind them and not having to rely on course markings. There was a short steep climb at mile 11 and when I got to the top I felt a drop in energy and was trying to figure out what was happening. I was shocked that I was feeling this way and decided to take a gel with caffeine. It was definitely a sign of needing some fuel and immediately went away. We were able to catch the group ahead surprisingly on a more technical downhill trail. We stayed together and it was Mike Wardian (team Hoka) and a couple others. We began a long 5-6 miles climb to Cardiac (~1800’ vertical). Since I had embraced myself for this I actually enjoyed the climbing and the scenery as the sun was rising. It was a pleasant mix of switch back, single track trails, some rolling trails, and long steady sections. These guys were obviously stronger climbers than me, but I stayed focused and kept them within reach.
We made it to the out and back section (miles 21-25) and started seeing the lead runners (~25-30 minutes ahead) make their way back. It was a tight trail for two way traffic but we cleared the path and let them blaze on by. As we started to come back on the same trail there were quite a few more people to share the trail with which was nerve racking. This was a very uncomfortable section for me as I had to run on the edge of the trail and the wind would occasionally blow hard enough that I would lose my balance quite a few times. After a few guys passed me (and female leaders) I noticed they were leaning more into the wind so I tried that and it seemed to work. They were taking advantage of the downhill and running more aggressive than I was. I just couldn’t find my rhythm. After the two-way trail began a quick descend into Stinson Beach. At first I felt like I could run faster again, but the challenge was that this was a wetter section of the course with a lot switch backs going down. I took some of the early turns too fast and had a couple nasty falls, banging up my legs and hands trying to keep my body from hitting to hard. I intentionally slowed it down again and just ran it safely until the bottom. At Stinson Beach aid station which is the next spot for crew support, I ditched the arm sleeves, head lamp, changed shirts, and picked up a new bottle with Tailwind and more gels. I had been taking gels every 3-4 miles as needed and was feeling spot on with nutrition and hydration. 8:41/mile average pace for last 17 miles
Stinson Beach – Tennessee Valley (mi 44)
As you exit the aid station onto Dipsea Trail you begin climbing what seemed like an endless number of steps. There are some parts of the trail to the side that are runnable, but for the most part the steps were unavoidable. I dealt with it the best I could but it was a challenging section. Once off the steps there was still another 1200’ of climbing. My quads were on fire so for me power-hiking was the better option. I would walk up the hills as fast as I could until my hamstrings would burn for a while and then jog a little to give them a break. My pace was much slower (11-15 min pace) than I had anticipated but there was nothing I could do without blowing up. I knew what others ran last year in sloppier conditions so it was a little demoralizing not being able to get up this climb quicker. When you think you are at the top, you make a turn and realize you are only half way there. It was the toughest part of the day for me and I really struggled getting back up Cardiac. One consequence of walking so much was that my upper body got stiff and I was feeling a lot more of the pain from the earlier falls. It was more noticeable on the flat and downhill sections when I started to run. I tried my best to keep my mind off of the discomfort and focus on moving.
Once at the top we were merging with the 50k runners and the trails were getting more congested. My legs had not bounced back and I found myself in a funky spell of being comfortable with the pace of others and unable to increase the effort. I didn’t pick it up or attempt to pass anyone for a few miles as I was trying to get my head back into it. My average pace for miles 28 -36 was 12:10/mile.
My race plan for the last 10-15 miles was to increase the effort and pick up the pace. I had head phones with me that I planned to wear during this last part so I could crank up the volume to numb the pain and get into a fast rhythm. I had no idea how it would go but I gave it a try anyways. My first mile was 8 flat and next mile was 7:44. I had a great turnover and a lot of frustration to burn so it made for a more enjoyable experience. I kept up the effort and had a couple more climbs before getting to the next aid station with crew support. My attitude changed completely and I ran more determined than I had all day. I was beginning to catch guys ahead of me and on the uphill sections I alternated between power-hiking and running with more emphasis on getting up it the quickest. We had a quick descent into Tennessee Valley and I had another good exchange with Michael to get a new bottle.
Tennessee Valley – Finish
There is one last climb that is 1.75 miles with 800’ of vertical. If I was going to pass anyone it was going to probably be on this climb as the last few miles is pretty much downhill. I think I went by a couple guys in the aid station and at least two more on the climb. I was willing to hurt a little more as it was the last climb and I was feeling much more confident at this point. I tried to put as much distance on these guys before the top to make sure they weren’t going to be close for the chase into the finish. The last few miles went by fast as I was able to cruise at a seven flat and knew it was about over. Average pace for last 14 miles was 9:04.
Overall time: 7:32:16
Check out TNFEC 50 mile race data on Strava
I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to pull off a spectacular race and go sub 7 hours, but I think I ran an overall smart race and had the right intentions. There were a few of elites I would have loved to beat, but I did make it in before a couple strong runners. This is an extremely tough course if you don’t live in an area with hills to train. Pretty much everyone in the top 50 is from an area with plenty of elevation so they definitely had the advantage. Considering all my vertical training was done on a treadmill at 12% I’m in good spirits with my performance. The low point between miles 28-36 sucked, but honestly it wasn’t worth the risk for me to push harder as I wanted to finish. I will be able to recover much sooner and will be a lot stronger for my upcoming race schedule as I attempt to get a Western States 100 golden ticket. I know what I need to do and came away with plenty of takeaways. I will be back next year much stronger and ready to fight and make others hurt just as much as I plan to.
Special thanks to Michael Young for coming out on his time to support me and make my weekend and race day a success. It was great having the extra support and I’m sure Stefanie appreciated not having to drive to the aid stations. Michael is actually the first person to introduce me to Hoka’s and he also ran in the same race when I ran my first ultra-trail race.
I also have to thank my coach Ian Sharman for getting me fit for this race. There was a purpose for every workout and I definitely learned a great deal in the short time he has been coaching me. I came into the weekend fit and prepared to face the challenges I was going to have to deal with.
Thanks to Sterling Ridge Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine for providing me with unlimited use of their Anti-Gravity treadmill so I could do my recovery runs. Early on in my training I definitely benefited from having less impact on my legs during recovery days. I was able to get fitter quicker and also push hard on my more demanding workouts. As an Ironman athlete himself, Keith understands what endurance athletes go through and he cares for the athletes in our community.
Klean Athlete is another sponsor that has done wonders to my overall health and performance. They are committed to keeping all athletes clean from banned and unsafe substances. I have seen noticeable changes in my health and body from being committed to taking their supplements on a regular basis. It seems like there are more and more doping scandals making the news recently. There was actually some controversy before our race with allowing an athlete, who has failed a drug test in 2009, to compete in the elite wave. I like that more attention is being brought to this matter, but we have to continue to make it a topic if we want to see less of it in the future. Without a zero tolerance policy towards PED’s certain athletes will continue to cheat. If you have any races in 2016 and want to do your best I would encourage you to check out Klean Athlete’s website and learn more. If you need a recommendation on what to take send me a private message and I will be more than happy to help.
The North Face Endurance Challenge is a spectacular race and they could not have picked a better place to have a championship event. I have fallen in love with this part of the country and wish I had the opportunity to spend more time here. The views were amazing and weather was awesome! I met some great people from around the area involved with the running community and they were wonderful and very welcoming which is another reason why I will be back.
Shoes: Hoka One One Stinson ATR Trail
Shorts: Salamon S-Lab Exo Twinskin
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 220
Handheld Bottle: Ultimate Direction
Nutrition: Power Gels and Huma Energy Gels. Tailwind Endurance Fuel for extra calories
Prerace Drink: Beet Elite Neo Shot
Postrace Recovery: Klean Athlete Recovery
More vertical to the final touches
The focus for November is to continue getting stronger by climbing more and also adding more speed work to help with cruising pace. I started the month coming off a solid week of 87 miles (longest to date for this race) so the first week was treated more as a rest week. I had a few active recovery days scheduled into the week which was basically power-hiking at 12% on the treadmill. I was able to get close to 2000’ of vertical in each session and also allow my legs to bounce back from the prior week’s volume.
As I’m writing this I’m 9 weeks into training for my first 50 mile trail race, The North Face Endurance Challenge. So far it’s been very rewarding as I’m in great shape and getting stronger each week under the guidance of my coach, Ian Sharman. I have 5 weeks remaining until the big day and I’m determined to make the most of these next few weeks, to be in my best shape to compete with the top ultra-runners in the sport, and hopefully finish somewhere in the mix. This course will be challenging for me as there will be repeated elevation gains and losses of several hundred feet and a total gain of 9,237’. In The Woodlands I’m lucky to get 400’ of elevation gain in a 25 mile run. Therefore, we have to be specific with my training plan to ensure I am focusing on what I will experience on race day. Not having run this course before I am at a disadvantage so everything I have been doing has been preparing me to what could come on race day.
Back on My Feet Austin 50K Trail Race: 09/26/2015
1st Overall 4:17:38 *CR
I had planned for this to be a quick trip to Austin to get in a 50k training run and also have a course with some elevation, which has been tough for me to get at home. This race was at Flat Creek Ranch in Johnson City, about 45 miles west of Austin, TX. There is a 10k, 30k, and 50k race with the 30k and 50k starting at 6 a.m. I showed up to the race site at 5:20 a.m. to have time to pick up my race bib and get ready. The temperature was either high 60’s or low 70’s with medium humidity, and forecast to be above 80 by 10 a.m.
The 50k is a four looped course through the central Texas Hill Country. My goal for the first loop was to run it at an easy pace and focus on getting familiar with the course. My challenge was being able to see the course markings which were green ribbons along the trail and also some signs with arrows. They seemed to be spread too far apart so it was a little nerve racking being out there and unsure if I was on the right trail. A couple times I had to stop as there were a few paths to choose from and I didn’t see any arrows or signs with directions to go. Each time the front pack would catch up and we would decide together which way to go. At about 3 miles into it we missed a trail off to the right and we ran along a dried up creek for 3/10 of a mile before we realized we weren’t on the course. We turned back and finally saw a green ribbon and where we should have turned. It was frustrating because I still had a goal time that I wanted to run and we were wasting a lot of time. The main group had got ahead of us at this point and we then got turned around at one of the aid stations. One of the volunteers was there and called to get directions on which way we were supposed to go. There was a lot of uncertainty and I took my chances and went on. I figured I was going to run 50k regardless so if I got lost or way off course then I would still get my mileage. Luckily I stayed on the right trails and eventually made it around for one loop. My watch showed 8.62 miles instead of 8 miles and the time was 1:14. I’m doing the math in my head and realize I’m way off with where I wanted to be. Last year’s winning time was 4:17:53. For me that is doable but not sure I could make up that much time without having to run it at a hard effort.
The second loop I began to pick up the pace as I didn’t need a head lamp and could see the trails. I still had to pay close attention to the course to make sure I didn’t get on the wrong path. I got into a good rhythm at a mid to upper 7 minute pace and figured I could make up a lot of time now that I could see where I was going. The first three miles are pretty much at an elevation loss which made it comfortable to pick up the pace. There were still parts that had quite a few turns and decent size rocks so you had to concentrate on foot placement and avoid turning an ankle or wiping out. I had one close call and decided to back off the tempo and chill out. The middle portion of the loop is where there was a bit more climbing and rocky trails. I felt comfortable running the inclines and practiced power hiking the steep sections. The course was nice and we got to run on a variety of surfaces which kept it interesting. The second loop was definitely the most comfortable and my overall time was around 2:09. I was feeling good with my time and where I wanted to be.
By the third loop I easily knew which parts of the trail to run. I picked up the pace a little more and had a couple miles that were probably too quick. I backed it off as I didn’t want to run into trouble later and regret going too fast. I kept a steady pace for the most part and just focused on running smart and not getting injured. I had to remind myself this is still a training run and it’s not worth damaging my body. It was beginning to warm up quick so I starting getting in more fluids at the aid stations and filled up my handheld bottle with Gatorade at a couple of the stations. About mile 22 I was beginning to feel a little weak. I usually take a gel every four miles so figured I would take half of one to see if it would help give me a little more energy. I made it through the third loop around 3:05.
I did the math on my projected finish time and knew I could pretty much take it easy on the fourth loop. I started getting an upset stomach which was most likely the Gatorade and gels mixing together. It was worse on the downhill sections because it would slosh around and then I would burp up some foam or a little bit of fluid. I wasn’t overly concerned, but just had to deal with a little discomfort and keep taking in fluids. It did get warm and I won’t lie, my legs were getting tired. I began to pretty much power hike all hills even the ones I ran before, picked up the pace on the flat sections, and took it easy on the descents to stay as comfortable as possible. I was averaging around 9-10 minute miles. At the aid stations I chilled out for a minute or two and then went on. I thought I had a pretty good cushion on the overall course record but then realized I stopped my watch earlier in the race when we thought we were lost, and also a few times at aid stations. When I looked at the actual time with a quarter mile to the finish line it was 10:15 a.m. I still had one hill to run up and then a short stretch to the finish line. I could see the clock was 4:17 at as I was approaching the finish line and thought I missed beating last year’s winning time. Luckily for me I was 15 second faster.
This was definitely a good training run for me and had some challenges that I had to overcome. I know what I should focus on the next couple months leading up to The North Face 50 Mile Endurance Challenge. I took care of my body and will be stronger as a result and now ready to put in some more solid training. The race was put on by Luke’s Locker and Back on My Feet Austin. Overall, they did a very good job with the race and I would definitely run it again as it was a nice scenic course and Austin is an awesome city to visit. 100% proceeds directly support Back on My Feet Austin and its mission that uses running to create self-sufficiency in the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness.
Shoes: Hoka One One Stinson ATR Trail
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 220
Handheld Bottle: Ultimate Direction
Nutrition: Power Gels and Gu
Prerace Drink: Beet Elite Neo Shot
Postrace Recovery: Klean Athlete Recovery
Back To the Grind
It feels great to be back on a normal training schedule and having my sights on more ultra-distance trail races the second half of the year. It’s been a while since my last post about any sort of training and that’s mainly because I’ve been out of it. We’ll call it an extended off season. The initial idea I had for a blog was to just share my training experiences leading up to my first 100 mile trail race, Rocky Raccoon. After that performance I was highly motivated to get back into training and had the intentions to continue on and register for some more well-known races across the country where there would be a larger ultra-runner presence and some tough competition.
For me to make it through an entire season (almost full year) of Ultras I have to be in-tune with my body. I have to recognize signs of fatigue and listen to what my body tells me. If not I will get sick or end up with an injury that could affect me immediately or later in the season, preventing me to perform at my best or performing at all. I also want to do the most training that I can to be prepared for race day. To avoid injury and to take my performance to the next level, I do a lot of workouts in the water. Have you ever thought about training in the water? Not swimming! I’m talking about the popular sport of Aqua Jogging. It’s almost as boring as swimming, and you will get some weird looks.
Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Race Report:
23rd Annual Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler: January 31, 2015
2015 USA 100mi Trail Championships: Third Overall 14:15:53
Huntsville State Park is the home of the Rocky Raccoon 100. The race started at 6 a.m. with the temps in the low 40’s and forecasted highs in the low 60’s with increasing chances of precipitation later in the evening hours. For me this was ideal temperatures and with a chance of rain meant clouds so no direct sun light. I have a tendency to heat up so I’m all for cooler temps to keep my core temperature down. My complete race day attire is at the end of this report, but I basically felt the most comfortable in shorts, short sleeve shorts, and arm and leg sleeves. There were 400 registered for the race and I positioned myself near the front of the pack, and just behind the front row. I recognized a lot of the guys (well-known ultra-runners) around me as I’ve been reading many of their blogs and watching their interviews as part of my build-up and preparation for this day. It was a cool feeling to know I was about to race against some of the best in the sport. I didn’t feel intimidated because I had my own race day plan and I knew if I executed it and ran my own race then I would have a successful day and ultimately complete my first hundi.
Lap One: 2:32:41
Right off the start there was a front group that formed with about six runners (5 men & 1 woman), and then two guys flying off the front from that group. I was with this group of six for the first quarter mile but backed off and continued at a comfortable effort. I watched the start of this race last year and there are some of the same guys racing again so I knew it would be a quick start and fast first lap. Plus the weather is better this year so there is more of a chance they will take it out faster. I found myself with five others which included last year’s woman’s winner Nicole Studer, recent US 100K championship runner-up Paul Terranova, Nathan Leehman who is a well-established distance runner, and a few others. I chose to stay behind them about five steps so I could have time to react to the terrain as we were on single track trails and I did not want to take a fall this early on. I’ve ran Huntsville enough to know you have to watch every step due to the roots, and the pine needles on the course make it more difficult to spot. I’ve had my share of falls… I came prepared and wore the most powerful headlamp I could find so would easily be able to see the trails and make the best choice on foot placement. One guy behind us was not so lucky as he fell a couple times within the first few miles. I had a feeling it was going to be a long day for the poor guy and I actually felt bad for him. I slowed down once just to make sure he was okay. It made me that much more conscious to pay attention.
Within about 15 minutes into the race I realized I did not take a gel 30 minutes prior to the start and that was part of my race day nutrition plan. I quickly consumed one of the six carried on me so I wouldn’t get behind on fuel. The first few miles went by quick and we went through the Nature Center aid station (mi 3.1) without stopping as it was too soon to refill our bottles with fluids. On a warmer day I would have filled up just to make sure I always had fluids.
The next section of trails was familiar to me because I came to the park the week before and ran 14 of the 20 mile course and started in the early morning to get some practice in the dark. Somewhere along this section I took another gel because I knew we were getting close to the next aid station so I wanted to get one more in and use the remaining water I had in my bottle. My thought is to arrive at an aid station with an empty bottle so you can fill up your entire bottle and therefore get in more fluids over time. We approached the DamNation aid station (mi 6.2) which I was looking forward to because all the aid stations have a reputation and these volunteers have been talking it up for quite some time and are known to give off some good energy the entire race. I had the top off my bottle and ready for a refill. I was drinking water so you shout out water or whatever you need and a volunteer carrying a gallon approaches you to refill your bottle.
The next section is a six mile loop with half on jeep trail and the other half on single track trail looping back to DamNation. I stopped once around mile seven to go pee and when you’re in the wilderness you go wherever you are most comfortable. Since I was at the back of the pack I just quietly stepped off the trail, did my thing, and continued on. By this time it was starting to get light outside so I turned off my head lamp to conserve the batteries for later on. Our group started to chatter now since we didn’t have to concentrate so much on the trails. Paul and another guy from Asia were talking and I was listening to their conversation. I was finding it amusing because I knew quite a lot about Paul already since I’ve read his race reports before when he paced the Trail Record holder (Ian Sharman) here in 2011, and I had watched interviews on Paul the week before the race. I’m not a stalker but I pay attention to what the top guys are doing. Paul mentioned something I don’t recall hearing before and it was very reassuring to me. He said on this course you will have more success if you can keep the time deviation from your slowest lap to your fastest lap around 10 minutes. I thought it was great advice and figured maybe that’s what I should shoot for. We completed that loop and came back into DamNation aid station (mi 12). The group refilled their bottles. Some went for their special needs bags and others took their time. I didn’t feel like going out of there alone so I took time to stretch a little. My initial race plan was to run 8:30 pace and stretch for one minute every two miles so my overall pace would be 9 min/mi and 15 hour overall finishing time. The pace we were running according to my watch was low 8’s and I didn’t feel like it was necessary to stop and stretch before this as nothing was tight this early on. Plus I had been monitoring my heart rate and it was low 140’s (15 bpm less than my first 100 attempt).
Once we started going again after 20-30 seconds (if that) there was a slight uphill section on jeep trails. Paul and one other started to separate from the group and put a little distance on us. I know Paul is from Austin which has more hills for training so I figured he would be built to handle the inclines a little better than me. I stayed calm and just made sure my heart rate didn’t spike. My mantra became stay calm, cool, and collective and I repeated that on the uphill sections as the next three miles had rollers. We would seem to regroup on the downhill or flats and separate on the uphills. What I like about this section of jeep trails is that you can see at least a half mile ahead and I notice the front group was splitting up.
Our pace naturally got quicker because it was open trails with no turns. I was seeing my splits get down to low 7’s and thinking to myself to stay calm. We were putting time on the front pack and beginning to catch a couple guys by the Park Road aid station (mi 16). They hung on so there was probably a group of nine or so that went through the next four miles of single track trails. I stopped again to pee so I was emptying my bladder once an hour. The last 2-1/2 miles of this section is also the beginning of the lap so I knew we would begin seeing the leaders coming through and I could calculate how far ahead they were. There was one dude off the front with a huge lead that looked like he was out there running a marathon. It was obvious he was chasing the course record and at that pace he would crush it. Then a couple big names went by like Ian Sharman (has current AR for 100 miles on trails), and Dave James (has a couple US 100 mile championship titles). We entered the start/finish transition area and I had a transition bag at the aid station with a baggie of my gels and electrolytes that I grabbed, and then ran outside of transition to my tent to get a bottle of coconut water and a full handheld bottle. I sat down in a chair to take off my shoes so I could remove my leg warmers, remove my arm warmer sleeves, and drop off my head lamp. I ate up too much time during the transition because by the time I made it back out for lap two the group was out of sight. I didn’t panic because in my mind I was planning on three hour laps anyways and it was 2:33. I usually take pride in fast transition times but shook it off.
Lap 2: 2:38: 01
I started repeating to myself to stay calm, cool, and collective. This section is the single track portion and my least favorite as its continuous ups and downs with turns so a little more wear on the body. Within a 1-1/2 miles I could see the group ahead of me and I just stayed relaxed and thought to myself to hold my pace and let them come to me but don’t chase anyone. By the Nature Center Aid station (mi 23) I was back with the group. It was great and it was just like the first lap. I positioned myself behind them and stayed relaxed. Then I started analyzing the other runners and what shoes they were wearing and thinking how their feet were going to hold up on the trails over the course of the day. Not sure what shoes some of the guys wore but they didn’t look like enough cushion so I felt as if I was in a better position to have fewer feet and ankle problems later. Paul was doing some arm stretches above his head so I was mocking him. I figured he was doing it for a reason so it wouldn’t hurt if I did them too. I was in really good spirits and a playful mood so I was out there having fun. We entered DamNation (mi 26) and everyone did their thing. Our group of six was very courteous towards each other and some were communicating that they would go to the next person with water. It made it pleasant that we were looking out for each other.
Over the next six mile section we actually caught Dave James and passed him. We moved by him pretty quick as it looked like he was out of gas. We went through there pretty quickly and then we were starting to split up. I sat comfortably behind Paul and we gradually pulled away from the group. We came back through DamNation (mi 32) and Paul pulled away on the uphills and I would catch up on the flat and descents. I introduced myself and we started talking. I don’t recall a lot between miles 32-40 other than we chatted and alternated with the lead . At mile 40 I repeated my transition plan of getting my nutrition pack and hydration. Each nutrition pack contained about six gels and 4 electrolyte pills. I was averaging one gel every thirty minutes and two electrolyte pills every hour and half. This time I took a couple Advil and also changed into my Klean Athlete tech shirt. I asked my dad to start putting my gels in my handheld bottle sack so it would save me a little time at mile 60. I again spent a longer time in transition than Paul but I didn’t go out and chase him.
Lap 3: 2:44:46
I continued repeating to myself to stay calm, cool, and collective and not chase, but rather let the leaders come to me. I gradually caught up with Paul again by mile 46 and I heard someone say Ian was up ahead by 5-7 minutes. On this section we went by the guy that was in first place for the first 40 miles of the race. He was lying on the ground in good spirits which seemed really odd. It was nice when we were coming up on the leaders and still felt full of reserves. I was focusing on getting my hydration and taking my nutrition. We did our own thing at the aids stations and kept on moving. Paul pulled away a little bit around mile 52 but then he went off into the woods to use the bathroom so it made since why he did that. I may have dropped the pace about 10 seconds per mile but I didn’t slow down to wait for him. It wasn’t like I was going to lose Paul but I wanted to see what would happen if he stopped for a while. Another few miles went by and I noticed him catching up. I could now see Ian Sharman up ahead who was currently in fourth. I didn’t pick it up any and just hoped I would slowly start making up more time on him and eventually catch him. By the turnaround point to start mile 60 he was about 5 seconds ahead of me. He had somebody there to hand him his nutrition and he kept going. Paul was right behind me and went quickly through there as well. I kept to my normal routine of entering the transition to get a couple more Advil, then over to the tent for a new bottle of coconut water, a new handheld bottle, and this time took a swig of a drink with a good dose of caffeine. Jason Johnston was there who I had not anticipated seeing and he was ready to run with me. I thought it was cool that I was going to be able to run with him as I wasn’t planning on having a “safety runner” until mile 76.
Lap 4: 3:03:22
We left out of there and the next five to seven miles were a little slower than my first 60 as I was now running over 9 min/mile. The shot of caffeine was too much and I was having second thoughts about taking that much but it was too late so I tried as hard as I could to control my mind and not let it affect me mentally. The good thing about having Jason with me is the stories he shares. We’ve done lots of training runs together and he never runs out of stories. He doesn’t know this but I couldn’t focus so I don’t remember any of them that day. My mind was all over the place. We made it through the toughest section and entered DamNation (mi 66). I stopped for my specials needs bag to change shirts as my shirt was wet and it was getting later in the day so I wanted a dry shirt for when it got dark outside. I never eat solid foods because I haven’t been able to stomach solids well during runs, but I grabbed a couple cheese quesadillas. I felt like it was better to get something on my stomach and actually it went down with no problem.
We moved on and were still cruising at a 9 minute pace and the buzz was going away so I knew I would be okay. I told Jason around mile 70 that I wanted him to leave me and run ahead so he could tell a friend of ours Chris Strait, who was taking pictures, to go to the start/finish line transition area and bring me my headlamp just in case I slowed down and was going to need it. I was probably going to be okay but I wanted to have it for assurance. He did and I kept plugging away. I stopped to pee and noticed that my urine was mostly clear but had a pink pigment to it. At that time I didn’t think too much of it because I drank beet juice before the race and thought maybe that was it. I kept running and at mile 71 I passed another guy so was now back in fifth place. I remember him looking solid early on so I figured he would probably stay with me. I didn’t show any signs of weakness as I went by and he let me go. I grabbed a few more quesadilla slices at mile 72 and that became my thing to go to. It was actually good to me so I figured I would stick with it.
I made it to Park Road aid station (mi 76) and went for some orange slices as that has helped me before in races. I was also meeting up with Dana Lyons who would be running the next section of trails with me. Dana owns Finish Strong Coaching and coached me in my last two Ironman’s. We’ve done several runs together as part of my training. We took off and he asked how I was doing and I’m not sure what I told him. He also asked if I saw certain people at that aid station there supporting me and I didn’t recall seeing any one specific. I remember seeing people in my peripheral vision but I was so focused on the ground in front of me that I never took my eyes off the trails that long. Plus I was now getting tired and not as mentally sharp. I stopped to pee again on this section and noticed the pink color still in my urine. I didn’t think too much of it and kept on running as my body felt normal and I didn’t feel like I was in any sort of trouble. It was very helpful to have Dana with me as he would give a lot compliments on my form. He would tell me that my body posture was good and I was doing a good working the turns and letting gravity do the work on the downhills. Even though it was getting tougher by the mile I felt comfortable and didn’t have any mental challenges. I actually had a few sub 9 min miles which was nice. Ian Sharman came by when I had about a mile and half to go to the turnaround and he was flying. I looked at my watch so I could measure how far ahead he was. It looked like he was on a mission and going to chase his American trail record. Then Paul came by with about ¾ mile into his final lap and he was looking comfortable as well. We made it to the turnaround point and I was 12 minutes from Paul. I didn’t change up my routine other than almost leaving out of there without my headlamp. Jason was at the tent and I remember him asking me “aren’t you going to take your light?” I was now getting tired and not thinking as clear. I was just ready to get back out there to get this race over with.
Lap 5: 3:17:03
I went out for the final lap with Zach Miller who is a Finish Strong team member and we usually push each other during weekday track workouts. We were averaging 9-1/2 minute miles and I was just trying to tune out the fatigue that was setting in. I noticed it was harder to control the pace going down the hills and my legs were taking a beating. I stopped a few times to stretch and tried to loosen up some tight muscles. It didn’t feel like it helped much as my legs felt heavy when I tried to go again. I focused as much as I could on staying hydrated and just moving forward. My goal was to cover as much ground before the sun went down because I knew once it got dark it would be a lot more challenging on the course with the roots. We made it to DamNation aid station (mi 86) and Dana was there to run with me again. I’m not sure if Dana made it two miles into this section without having 3-4 tumbles and a turned ankle. He was behind me and his headlamp wasn’t as strong as mine so he couldn’t pick up the roots as easily. We agreed that it was best for him to probably turn around as I knew the next three miles was actually going to be a lot worse with roots.
It was a different experience running alone in the dark like that and there were very few people on this section of the course for me to pass. There were ribbons hanging from trees with reflective tape so you knew which trails to stay on. A couple times my light would hit these ribbons and I would think people were ahead of me and there never was. I wasn’t hallucinating but it tricked me a couple times. It was a mild night and probably low 50’s outside. It was very peaceful out there and the insects were out by the lake making lots of noises. It helped keep my mind off of the running. I stopped to pee again to check the color of my urine and it was getting darker. I knew something was up and figured there was muscle breaking down as I had read about it before. I didn’t feel like my health was in jeopardy but I knew I was going to need to get it checked out after the race.
As I was approaching DamNation (mi 93) which was the second to last aid station, I looked up to check it out and I kicked a root. I went straight to my knees and couldn’t believe I was on the ground. Somebody was running the opposite direction and was really nice and asked if I was okay and needed any help. Maybe it looked a lot worse than it was but I got right up said I’m fine. I cleaned the top of my bottle off and was probably okay since that was my first fall of the day. I made it into the aid station and John Tortorici, another Finish Strong team member and coach was there to run with me to the last aid station. I asked him to grab my special needs bag which had a shirt and some other gear in it which I didn’t want to leave behind. I didn’t plan on coming back the next day to get it. I didn’t talk a lot during this section as I was really getting tired. We were seven miles from the finish line so I was doing the math in my head of how much more running I was going to have to do. I figured another 70 minutes which seemed like a lot more running. I just visualized where I was on the course and looked for certain things that I recognized to gauge where I was. I tried to stop worrying about my time because it seemed like it was going to take a long time and I just wanted to get to the finish line.
We eventually made it to the last aid station, Park Road (mi 96) and Zach went with me. Dana was there and said he was going to the finish line and that he would see us in about 35 minutes. The first thought in my head was there was no way I’m going to be at the finish line in 35 minutes. I was falling apart and doing all I could to keep it together. This was a very quiet run and we did see a lot more people on this section either with me lapping them or others going back out to complete another loop. Before this I would pass someone and say on your left before approaching or good job to the runners going the opposite direction. I was so physically and mentally exhausted that I couldn’t speak. Zach did all the talking for me and warning people ahead that we were coming and he did a good job complimenting the runners going by.
I knew there was no stopping but I wanted to walk a couple times and didn’t care if someone was going to catch me. I asked Zach once to see if there were any lights behind us approaching and he said no. He did a great job and kept telling me to keep going. I have never been that exhausted before but I was at a point where all I was saying to myself was one more step, just one more step. We finally made it to the last 200 yard stretch where it was an open section to the finish line. It was awesome running into the lights and knowing I was going to be done very soon. I was determined to cross the finish line without collapsing since there was live video of the race streaming on the internet. I crossed the finish line in 14:15:53 and stopped one step beyond the line and was content with not taking another step.
My friends and family were all at the finish line cheering for me and it was an incredible experience I’ll never forget. I knew I finished in third for the US Championship race and in awe of how well I placed. I gave hugs to family and friends and then the race director, Joe Prusaitis, presented me with my third place US Championship medal, 100 mile finisher belt buckle, trophy, and $300 check. Paul also greeted me and congratulated me on my finish. He finished first in the championship race which is even more impressive knowing that three weeks ago he finished second in the 100K national championships. Second place finisher, Sam Skeels, congratulated me as well and then we had our picture taken.
Things chilled out and I went to the aid station area to refuel with fluids and some soup. Around that time I asked Dana if he would check with medical personnel there about the red urine I was seeing which I thought was blood. The guy came to me and asked me quite a few questions. From what I was telling him he was thinking I had Rhabdomyolysis which is basically breakdown of your muscles. His concern was the blood in my urine. I told him I took some Advil as well and he suggested it probably be best that I get checked out at an ER to make sure everything was okay. Apparently Advil is not good to take during exercise because it affects the intestines. I took my shoes off while waiting there because it felt like I had a few blisters and also felt like I had a couple toenails that came off during the race. I kicked a few roots throughout the race and it was pretty painful at the time feeling the toenails get banged around. The guy poured alcohol on my feet and I wanted to scream and then he started to clean my feet with a cloth which was painful but I was honestly so tired that I didn’t even care. We hung around a little longer and took some more pictures with the current American men’s and women’s 100 mile trail record holders, and then we packed up and left. I did go to the ER (and hospital) that evening which is worthy of another blog in itself so I’ll save that story for another day. I’m okay and survived my first hundi and lived up to my goal of completing a 100 miles.
Race Day Gear:
Shoes: Hoka Stinson ATR Trail
Shorts: Salomon S-Lab EXO Twinskin
Shirt: Nike Shirt and Klean Athlete Shirt
Water Bottle: Handheld Ultimate Direction
Headlamp: Petzl NAO
Hat: Finish Strong (worn backwards)
Head Sweat band to keep ears warm
Socks: CEP ankle socks
Arm and Leg Sleeves: Pearl Izumi
Watch: Garmin 910XT.
Total Calories Burned: 13,348
Number of PowerGel’s consumed: 35
-4,648 Calories (326/hr)
-4,660mg Potassium (327/hr)
-1093g Carbs (76/hr)
-8,530mg Sodium (598/hr)
Overall Time: 14:15:53
Moving Time: 14:05:19 (stopped for total of 10 minutes during the race)
Average HR: 142 bpm
Click the link below to see my splits
Following the Brazos Bend 100, I treated the next week as a typical rest week to allow my body to recover from the stress of running 54 miles or seven plus hours. This was the longest I have run to date so I figured it would be wise to take a few days off. My quads were sore and I wasn’t able to do a whole lot on my feet. I focused on other means of active recovery to hopefully get back on my feet quicker. Monday I spent some time in the pool to keep from having to put too much weight on my legs, and Tuesday I did a few easy strides on the grass to get the blood flowing and assess the legs. I was very gentle and paid attention to my body’s condition as to not overdo it. By the weekend I was able to get in a couple decent runs, which was a good sign that my legs were responding and doing well with the rest and active recovery. Other things that helped with my recovery was spending lots of time in compression boots, constantly stretching and foam rolling, and a couple visits to get acupuncture treatment, Graston, and ART.
Race Recap: Brazos Bend 100 *DNF
The day began at 4 a.m. I didn’t sleep the best in the hotel room and kept thinking the alarm was going to go off at any time. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking it had to be around 3 a.m. and it was 11:45 p.m. Guess I was excited and ready to go… Got my stuff ready and had a bagel with cream cheese and some coconut water. We arrived to the Brazos Bend State Park at 5 a.m., on schedule and headed to the race start/transition area. Peter Bardenhagen was two cars behind us entering the park so it was nice having extra hands to carry our stuff. It was a nice morning and I was very calm and felt extremely good. I did my normal stretching and foam rolling followed by a short warm up jog. I drank about 8-10 oz. of Beet Elite thirty minutes prior to the start and then relaxed with Stefanie and Peter until the start. The race started at 6 a.m. and my plan was to go out at a comfortable pace.