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.
Solid Build Up and Then Some Setbacks
The focus for this training block is to get in some longer runs and have a better feel for what it’s like to spend more time on my feet as well as run on tired legs. This block consisted of two phases of three weeks on and one week of rest between them. I managed to get 98 total miles for the first week with my longest run just over 31 miles. This run was okay but I realized I would need to do a few things different on the next long run and also for the race. Running with a hydration vest for this long took a beating on my ribs. It was the constant bounce of the bottles which became very uncomfortable so I’ll scratch that off my race day attire. I also learned that putting body glide on the inner thighs helps to avoid chafing but also results in a heat rash so I’ll have to be conscious of that and stick to Vaseline or something else during the race.
Visit to Memorial Hermann Ironman Human Performance and Sports Medicine Institute
I enjoyed this fourth training block the most. This phase consisted of three consecutive weeks of building higher mileage followed by one week of recovery, as opposed to four weeks of training and one week off. Now that my weekly mileage is around 80-90 and soon to be at 100 miles, my body needs more recovery time. I’ve also allowed for two days a week as rest days. The difference I’ve noticed is I’m feeling fresher for the longer runs while I’m increasing mileage each week, and I’m not having the pain I was beginning to experience towards the end of the last training block.
More Base Building with a Few Obstacles
The main focus for TB 3 of 5 is to steadily increase weekly mileage, as it’s another base training phase, and avoiding over-training and injury. I began at the same weekly mileage that I had completed my last week of the prior training block, which was 60 miles. What I had not planned for was getting sick, but looking back it was eventually going to happen as I was demanding more from my body and not allowing enough rest. I first noticed something the morning after a massage when I got maybe 5-6 hours of sleep, and then went for a 7 mile run. It was a rest week and instead of actually resting and getting enough sleep, I worked more hours and stayed up late several nights. The day of the massage I did not drink enough fluids and so I think the toxins released during the massage just stayed in my body, and then the following morning’s run just made me more dehydrated.
Base Building Phase
The main focus for TB 2/5 is building a base while listening to my body and taking care of it. I also began recording heart rate data to see if there is any improvement over this period. For the most part I hit my weekly mileage goals and felt comfortable with the increased mileage. I also incorporated progression runs during some of my longer workouts and completed a few tempo workouts to get rid of the cobwebs. There were two weekends with back-to-back long runs and those went well. I’ll be doing more of these into TB 3/5 which will allow me an opportunity to begin mimicking race day fatigue, and more importantly doing so while properly recovering.
Getting Over the Hump
My main focus for this training block is to start out easy and get back into a routine of running more consistently. Only running 40 miles for the month of May and starting my training in June, I realize it’s going to be a much slower than usual progression towards feeling comfortable running. The first step is and was the hardest. There were quite a few days where I didn’t feel fresh and had little energy. My legs were tired from being off for a while and it didn’t help that it’s heating up for the summer and humidity is upper 90%. I didn’t hit all my weekly goals but I did get in 114 miles for this phase.
Rocky Raccoon 50KM Race Report: 11/01/14
This may not have been the most ideal day to run a race considering it’s the morning after Halloween and a day before the time changes and falls back. I wanted to have an organized run with aid stations to see where my performance is and also work out any kinks, and pick up on a few things with trail running as I’m six weeks out form my first hundred mile race. When I registered I didn’t even think about it being the day after Halloween so of course I took some heat from my better half. Sunday probably would have been better but it is what it is. I didn’t let the race change our plans and went trick-or-treating and pulled two munchkins in a wagon for a couple hours. We enjoyed the evening with some friends over and I actually had some beer (one), sangria (one), and too many bowls of chili (four). I got a lot of rest, more than usual Thursday night knowing the night of the race would not be enough. The night of, I went to bed after 11 p.m. and woke up at 4 a.m. I felt fine and had my gear and everything ready to go. Breakfast was a banana and coconut water on the ride to the race site. It was the first time we’ve seen temperatures in the 40’s so I prepared for the cooler temps. I had running shorts, calf sleeves, arm warmers, gloves, head wrap to cover ears, and a hat. I arrived at Huntsville State Park around 5 a.m. and picked up my packet. I had a few trips to the bathroom thanks to the chili, and then got a chance to warm up with some stretching. The race began at 6 a.m.
The start of the race looped through the parking lot and then onto the trails. I planned to take easy but there was such a big group at the front that I decided to pick up the pace and see if I could put a gap on anyone before entering the trail. I figured if I could get far enough ahead then I could slow down and get into a rhythm and run my own race. With it being dark enough the other runners would hopefully lose sight of me and wouldn’t know where I am. Out of sight out of mind! Well that didn’t work as another guy took off and started out at a 6:40ish pace. Not the pace I had planned so I set him up pretty good to build a gap. Three of us ran together and it was a tough course with lots of roots. Within the first mile I rolled my ankle enough to make me wonder if running this race was the right decision. I had a headlamp on that worked well on some early morning training runs, but it wasn’t bright enough to see well enough on these trails. Two of us were second and third and we started to build a gap on fourth place. Just after four miles I tripped on a root and went face first into sand. It didn’t hurt but I was covered in it. I quickly got up and closed the gap with second place. I looked at my watch and realized it was beyond four miles so I took a gel as my plan is to have a gel every four miles. The gel went down with quite a bit of sand but didn’t think too much of it. There was an out and back section and we got to see the leader. He was 2 minutes and 20 seconds ahead of us at mile 5 so we quickly did the math and knew he was running about 30 seconds faster per mile. I also noticed that he didn’t have a water bottle as the other three of us each had our own. There are a total of eight aid stations with five miles between stations two and three. I knew he was going to have to get liquids at every aid station which would add to his time where we could skip a 2-3 stations if we wanted to. There was a couple miles of jeep trails that I thought was pretty clear of roots and I somehow found one and went down hard. I scraped up the left knee on this one and also managed to lose my head lamp. It must have hit the ground hard enough that it opened up the battery cover and turned off. I panicked for a few seconds because it was nowhere near light outside and I couldn’t see two feet in front of me without it. I had a choice to crawl around on the ground sweeping my hands through the sand with no guarantee of quickly finding it, and not knowing if the batteries had falling out, or run with the runner that was behind me and now had caught up with me. Second place was too far ahead so I made the decision to leave it and run on this other guy’s heels. It got very challenging as we got back onto single track trails with the roots. I kept about 6-8 feet behind him and had to look in front of him to see the trails. I was looking for large roots so I could be prepared to lift my feet high enough to hopefully keep from tripping. The problem was I didn’t know where to step because it was pitch black in front of me. My feet and ankles were taking a beating as I was stepping on everything. I went down again a couple more times but the guy was nice enough to make sure I was okay and would wait for me to get up. Every time I fell my heart rate would spike about 15 bpm as my breathing would be all screwed up. I had to focus on staying relaxed and try to get my breathing under control. We came to the second aid station at around 8.75 miles and passed second place. The next aid station was five miles so he stopped for water and then ran with us. I probably could have used a refill but I wasn’t going to be left behind. He came with us and it was much better being in the middle as I could now see my footing. Somewhere around mile 10 there was a steep down section of the trail and one area dropped about a foot. It happened to be at the same time I kicked a root and I went flying in the air. I don’t know how this happened but I landed backwards on my back with my feet in the air. Fortunately there was sand at the bottom and it cushioned the fall. I think both guys were feeling bad for me at this point as one of them said something. I jokingly replied this is quite the haunted trail. It was just becoming comical to me. I knew the sun was going to come up soon and I had to pee really badly as all the falls probably put a lot of pressure on my bladder. I just couldn’t stop until there was enough light where I felt comfortable running alone. The first chance I got I stopped and relieved the bladder and stretched a little bit at the same time. I let the other two go and to my surprise they were starting to slow down. I was back with both of them within a few minutes and decided to pass them and do some of the work up front since I had been relying on them to take the lead. For whatever reason both of them kept running at that pace and didn’t go with me. I noticed earlier one of the guys had what looked to me like racing flats. I knew if my feet were hurting wearing Hoka’s that his feet had to be killing him so maybe he wasn’t all that comfortable either. I started putting some distance between us until I approached a section of the trail that split and went three different directions. Every turn leading up to this had a sign with an arrow and ribbons along the race course. Both trails had ribbons and I was really confused. It was ribbon for about 50 feet and then it stopped. I thought I was on the wrong trail so I turned back and the other guys had caught up. I lost four minutes as we went on the other trail and then turned around because those ribbons stopped as well. None of us remembered seeing any other trails or signs leading up to this point so we decided to just go straight. It was mile 12 so I knew we should only be ¾ of a mile away from the next aid station. Again the guys didn’t come with me so I made it to the aid station about 40 seconds ahead of them. The volunteers told me I was in first place which I was shocked and figured that the first place runner took the wrong turn. I told them it was very confusing ¾ of a mile back and that we almost got off course and others will most likely do the same. As I came around to the starting line to complete my first loop (didn’t know it was a two loop course…ha!) I quickly refilled my bottle and went back out the same direction to do another loop. One of the guys shouted that I was second place. I then realized the first place guy missed about a mile and half of the first loop. My time for the first loop was 1:59 and not knowing at the time his was 1:43. I was now ahead of third place by two minutes and fourth place by three minutes. I changed my watch screen to display only my heart rate and I ran the second loop just paying attention to heart rate. I didn’t want to get caught up into running a certain pace and knew I would be better off finishing stronger if I paid attention to heart rate and not let it get into the high 160’s. At the next out and back section of the jeep trails, first place and I crossed paths and my overall time was 2:20. He looked really strong and I didn’t make it to the turnaround point until 2:26 so knew he was 12 minutes ahead with 11 miles to go. I thought no way am I’m going to make up that much time on this guy so I kept running my own race and figured I would try to build a solid lead on second place. I passed third place and was now four minutes ahead of him, and six minutes ahead of fourth place. My hamstrings were getting really tight and I had to stop to stretch to hopefully loosen them up. I’m sure it was helping but it didn’t feel like it. When I approached a self-serve aid station, which was just after where I fell on the first loop and lost my headlamp, I asked the volunteer if anyone turned one in. He said he had two and I noticed one was mine. I put it back on my head and was glad I found it so I could retire it from future trail races. It’s good for running on the street but that’s about it. There was another seven miles of single track trails and it was really pounding my legs. I would stop often to try and stretch and also mash my fist into my hamstring as well as glutes to hopefully get them to fire. My pace was low 7’s for one mile and then upper 7’s to low 8’s for the next. I was still running by heart rate and kept taking fluids and gels every four miles. I felt comfortable and never pushed it too much as I didn’t want to do more damage to the legs in hopes of being able to recover from this race in a week. I made it to the last aid station which is mile 28 and there he was. The first place runner was leaving the aid station and we both made eye contact. He looked in control but I couldn’t believe I just made up 12 minutes in eight miles. All these thoughts went through my head in a matter of seconds as I’m trying to figure out what challenges he could have possibly be dealing with. Did he have some bad GI issues and had to go to the bathroom, did he bonk because he didn’t have a bottle with him and maybe not enough hydration or nutrition, or did he know he cut the course short on the first loop and decided to wait for me to catch up and make it a race to the finish. My bottle was getting very low on water and I was planning to refill it there but didn’t think twice about stopping. I immediately took out a gel as I had some water left and new I needed to get one in before I was completely out of water. Within seconds I was on him and went by him showing no pain. As I went by he said you got this. I was thinking there is no way he is going to let me go without a fight. I figured it’s unlikely he could run a 6:40 pace as that is what he started the race at and apparently had slowed down, but you never know what people have left in the last couple miles. I just went as fast as I could without completely blowing up and allowed my heart rate to climb into the mid 170’s. I was already uncomfortable with the tight hamstrings so why not pick up the pace and get it over with sooner. My last three miles were 7:06, 6:42, and 5:43. In the last three miles I put an 8-10 minute gap on second place. It was the greatest feeling of satisfaction crossing the finish line in first knowing I had to work hard and adapt to a bunch of changing circumstances. At today’s effort I definitely could not have continued another 69 miles so there is a high probability that I will control my pace at the hundred miler so I can make it to the finish line in one piece.
Official Time: 3:50?
Place: 1st Overall
Attire: Hoka Clifton’s, Nike running shorts, Klean Athlete tech shirt, Nike arm sleeves, Salomon EXO calf sleeves, cotton gloves.
Fuel: Banana and PowerGel before race with coconut water, PowerGel every 3.75-4 miles with Gatorade or water, Klean Recovery and Klean Protein after race.