Friday, September 16, 2016

Lean Horse 100

I was nervous to run 100 miles. Such a daunting task. I have run 76.9 miles as my furthest to date and I knew I could handle the distance, but I wasn't sure under what conditions. I chose an "easy" 100 miler for my first one to eliminate as many variables as possible. This one only climbed 5,887 feet during the length of the course and had an easy terrain of crushed limestone throughout. No rocks or roots to trip over. I could simply focus on running. This had been my goal for the last 3 years and I prepared meticulously for it and was super excited that my daughter, wife, sister-in-law and their parents were going to support me on site.

Signing up for the race
I had carefully laid out everything I would need the night before (well, really I laid it out about 5 times just to be sure and woke up twice to check a couple of things as I dreamt that I forgot something). Had a great night sleep though (considering all anxiety) .Woke up by 4:45am, was downstairs with stomach full of breakfast and waiting for Bill to pick me up at 5:15am. Headed to the track, sipping on some coffee, mentally going through the race...

After a little issue finding some water, I was able to line up at the start and was waiting for the last few minutes to tick off the clock before we could get going. People were giddy around me and I tried to stay calm. I just wanted to start running.

Starting too fast. Telling myself to hold back.
I saw several people starting out quite fast and I figured that I would see them later on again. I held true to one of my racing mottos:” If they are truly that fast, I have no business running with them. If they are not that fast, I’ll see them later”. Furthermore, I remembered a big thing I learned right before my first ever Ultra: “Take the inside lane!” (the race started on the Custer High School track. Running on lane 1 ensures the shortest possible distance. I kept that mindset throughout the day, as I signed up for 100 miles (160km) and not 101. Only crazy people would run that far. The first few miles were amongst the most difficult. Not in the way of being fatigued or mentally drained, but it felt awful forcing myself to slow down constantly when I felt so good! I knew I had to, because otherwise I may not see the end of the race, but it still is a funky feeling.

All the aid stations were planned out for my crew and pacer so that they would know what pace I expected to run and I told them what I would like to have at each aid station that they would be at. This would help eliminate time spent at aid stations. Spending just 3 minutes at each of the 20 aid stations would result in a full hour of no running time.
Race Start

Surprisingly, I found myself running alone starting at mile 2! A lot of runners (50K, 50mile and a few 100mile) were ahead of me and plenty behind. Couldn’t see anyone at that point though and I thought that it was going to be a long day. Throughout the next few miles the first couple of gels went down smoothly. Trying not to think about the next 30 or so that I will consume during the day. Unlike other, more experienced runners, I haven’t mastered the art of eating real food during a race yet and relied solely on gels and fluids for my calories. Roughly 30 gels (3300 calories) and however many gallons one can fit of sugary water, fueled me through the day.

I brought along two identical pairs of shoes (Altra Instincts) that I trained with for a combined 800 miles. I wanted shoes that were broken in and comfortable. The second pair was with my crew in case my other shoes got wet for any reason. The shoes were so comfortable, that I hadn’t loosened or tied the laces for the last 2-3 months. They fit like a glove.

Cruising through the early stages of the race, I was very surprised when mile 20 rolled around and I saw my crew-chief Bill for the first time. He had my bottles ready to go and extra gels and I spent all of 3 seconds in the aid station. I had planned on 2 minutes initially, but was able to put that extra time into the bank! Bill has crewed for me now at multiple ultras and knows exactly what I need when I run in. It’s extremely encouraging to have that level of support during a race as demanding as this.

Out of sight of the aid station, I reached down my pants and grabbed tightly (shorts that is, nothing „attached“) and RIP! Oh what a relief. Tore the inseam. It just hadn’t felt right until now. Blood flow is restored and I am beyond happy J.

Next up on the course, I would encounter several tunnels, which I had never seen in person before, but weren’t difficult, as long as they weren’t so crazy dark! I had to slow to an almost walk as I had no idea what condition the ground was in. Didn’t want to turn an ankle at that point. By the second tunnel I realized that taken off your sun glasses incredibly increases your light-perception! Who would’ve thunk? Anyways, that problem was now solved too and I could run through the tunnels.

Efficient Aid Station
Coming into my favorite aid station of the day, Mystic, I initially didn’t see Bill so sprinted over to the tent and asked for a bottle of water and a bottle of Gatorade. While stuffing my arm sleeves with ice, I noticed a little anxious squeaking to my left and looked down to see my excited daughter Leiana jumping up and down yelling: “Papa!” I was so excited to see her and my race mode switched off for a moment. I hugged her and gave a kiss and saw the rest of the family. It didn’t feel great to seemingly abandon them right away again, but if I was done sooner with the race, I could hang out with them sooner again. 

Right out of the aid station I passed another runner who looked like he was in bad shape. It was only mile 31-32 and I thought that my strategy to run my own conservative pace at the beginning paid off. During the next stretch I passed Adam, a runner who also attended SDSU during the time I did and he was having some problems on the side of the trail. Passing him, I was more concerned with my own issues that were arising in the form of tight IT-Bands. The stretch I have been doing for years looks like a one-legged squat, with one leg resting on the other. It takes some time, but makes the ITBs feels much looser afterwards. Troubling enough though, I had to repeat that stretch through almost the entire race. I likely lost as much time on the stretches as I gained by running through aid stations. Running with Adam into next aid station, we could see Tim Fryer on our heels, just a hundred feet behind. I looked at my pace chart and told Adam that I was 23 seconds of my anticipated time at this point. Felt good to be hitting your targets!

One of the truest things I’ve learned about Ultras came true two-fold. “If you’re feeling great or if you’re feeling horrible. Just wait a few minutes, it’ll pass.”

My great feeling of hitting my splits vanished over the next few miles. I bonked a little while running with Tim from the Rochford aid station (37.4mi) to Nahant (43.5mi). It mentally threw me off to see him and Adam catch me at Rochford and I likely went a little too fast in order to stick with Tim during that time. It also turned to the warmest temps of the day and so a couple of different things combined. I decided to let Tim go after Nahant and re-assess my body and mind. I got my strength back when I saw, on a long uphill, Tim passing another runner. I set my goal to chase that other runner. During this time, my GPS died on me and I lost my ability to run by exact pace. Perhaps this saved my race, as I now ran truly by feeling. I kept an ever increasing uphill-shuffle-pace and put my head down to try to catch up to him. It likely took 30 minutes or so, but it felt like 4 or 5. He was now walking and I caught up and encouraged him to run with me.  
I could use a few minutes of talking to pass another mile or two before the turnaround. By my assumption, he was in a severe bonk at the time and I hoped to get him out of it by talking. The aid station was getting closer and he picked up the pace a bit. Coming towards us was another runner, but it was only a relay runner who told us that we were in 3rd and 4th place. Meaning Tim was ahead of us and I assumed, Eric Clifton, an Ultra running legend, was in the lead. However, we were so close to the aid station at mile 49.3 that I was confused that they hadn’t come towards us yet. That meant that I was close to the lead. This was exhilarating. I knew Adam was on my heels, so I slightly increased my pace, but immediately dropped the other runner and within 5 minutes was up to Tim who was walking into the aid station. The half way point was a key aspect of my race planning. The turnaround was at 50 miles. My goal was to run my own pace until about mile 50. Then I would count the runners in front of me as they would run towards me. Plus, the 50K and 50 mile racers had already turned earlier, so I knew that every runner that I saw was going to be in my race. For the few relay teams, I looked at their bib numbers to see if it was relay or 100mi racer. I thought that the top 5 were very close together. He walked to get his fuel/nutrition from his team. I shouted my requests to my crew and ran past the aid station. I would be back in 1.4 miles and was fine with my water supply. This would help put a little distance on Tim. On the approach to the turnaround I saw the leader, Eric, who holds multiple course records nationally and ran for the national team as well. He looked as if he was going through a bonk as well. The temperatures were getting to a lot of participants at this point and nearly half of all runners ended up not finishing the race. After the turn around (8:25h elapsed), I got back to the aid station and saw him gingerly sitting down and knew I was in the lead. That was an exhilarating feeling! I never had a runner’s high in the middle of a race (usually while approaching the finish line). During this adrenaline rush of taking the lead I decided to push the pace a little on the next 12 miles of pure downhill.
12 miles of downhill after the turnaround!
Originally I didn’t want to “race” until the 100K mark, but this opportunity could not be squandered. My goal was to put enough distance behind me so that I could not be seen during the long straightaways along the course. (As you know, seeing the next runner up motivates you to chase them. Not seeing them might have you settle into a comfortable rhythm).
The next 12 miles or so went by in a blur. I kept pushing and pushing without trying to blow up. Habitually stepping on that fine line of best effort and self-destruction. Never did cross that line and was constantly encouraged by the other runners that I was now running towards. They clapped and cheered and it was a great motivator to keep going. I still had to stop every mile or so to stretch, but only for maintenance at this time. I was not at risk that my legs would lock up, but wanted to keep them refreshed as I still had around 40 miles to go.
Bill was on point with all of his aid station prep and got me in and out as fast as humanly possible. Kyle had joined the crew at mile 62 and gave me feedback on how I was doing. He knows my running better than anyone and I trust his opinion. When he said I looked good, I knew I was in good shape. I was so pumped that after taking a big swig of ice-tea, I downed the rest over my head to cool off. I guess at that point it only mattered to cool off and not so much what I used to accomplish that.
True. See previous picture :)
I kept on rolling. The next uphill was immensely important for me. If I can keep an even effort here, I could decide the race. I knew my lead was increasing to about 15 minutes as I my crew was timing the runners behind me, but my lead could be gone with one bad decision. I set tiny incremental goals and ran from “here to the next tree, or to the next bridge, before setting my sights on the next tiny target ahead”. The actual pace at this point was irrelevant. I needed to be the fastest tortoise at this point. I was still hitting every aid station within 2-3 minutes of my planned time. My lead grew to roughly 20 minutes when I picked up Kyle at mile 80.  He would pace me the rest of the way. After a quick check that our head lamps were working, I told him:” Take me home!”

We chatted about all kinds of things and I didn’t notice that we were going up the second to last hill of the day. Sadly though, after I did finally realize it, I convinced myself to walk. I had earned it, I thought. Imagine the convincing nature of your brain at 4am in the morning when the alarm goes off. I always stay in bed. This was me “staying in bed”. I walked a bit. The running stretches got shorter and the walking stretches longer. My stomach wasn’t doing too great either when I ran.  Luckily I didn’t need to use a bathroom until the mile 90 spot. And that was only to see if it would help relief my tight stomach. I knew where every bathroom would be along the course, due to my handy dandy chart. I couldn’t bare risking squatting in the woods at this point in the race. I may not get back up and would have to sit/lay with my bare butt in some 40 degrees. Nevertheless, I carried wet wipes
Sitting down in the restroom
along. From experience,..they come in handy
J. Trying to hold on the handle bar next to the bowl, I noticed my legs getting ready to cramp up and I decided to take a heroic and brave “trust fall” onto the seat. No cramps. Uff. Dodged a bullet there. I almost didn't get back up, but with some awkward, maneuvering, I somehow managed. No stomach relief, but I figured I better get going before my body decides to shut down. 

My A-Goal was sub 18hour, but my lead kept expanding (over 35 minutes now) and thus I decided to walk the last 10 miles and therefore didn’t hit my sub 18 goal, but it was a conscious decision as I flipped priorities and was more concerned with winning. I admitted to Kyle that I may not be doing this sort of racing thing again (also told Christina that she shouldn't take anything I say towards the end of the race or right after too serious :) )

From this point Kyle and I agreed to walk it in, unless we saw a headlamp behind us. I attempted to run a few times, but stopped 5-6 steps into each try. I could do it if I had to. I knew this, because we got scared once. Thinking a car  headlight or something behind us was a runner and I took off. Kyle stayed behind to see if it was a runner. Kyle could easily catch me and let me know what to do next. It wasn’t a runner though and we un-ceremoniously continued our walk. I picked up the running pace with the stadium in sight and was overly excited running the last 200 meters to the finish. It had been a long day and I was excited and couldn’t grasp that I was indeed winning the Lean Horse 100 race. I have such respect for that distance would never have believed that I would be in the position to accomplish this. My wife and father in law were cheering me on, somehow had a cow bell and I crossed the finish line. Later on, in the pictures and videos I could see that Kyle had moved over to let me have this moment on my own. What a classy move. Couldn’t have gotten to this point without his coaching and expertise though. Thanks Kyle!

My finishing time was 18:20:45. I am beyond happy with my race and am also excited to work out some kinks (IT-Bands, no walking last 10 miles etc.) and see how fast I can run this race in the future.

Thanks to my crew (Sandra, Mandy, Leiana, Christina, Crew-Chief Bill) and Kyle for crewing as well as pacing. A well-organized race allowed me to have the best race experience of my life!

Taken by Jonathan Karol around mile 4