LONG HAUL 100 ULTRA-MARATHON RACE REPORT
Hard to say where to begin, but I completed my third 100 mile race. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what an amazing experience this was.
The Start / Loop 1 -
(13.5 miles, 11:45 average)
Just before dawn, runners, friends, family, and race officials gather just inside the gate to Cypress Creek Preserve's Pump Station Road (multi use recreational as well as utility access road). Jessica came with me to see me off and helped me bring my stuff (two bags and a small cooler) to the drop off area so the race volunteers can bring it to the hub. She snaps a picture and puts it on Facebook. This helps because I'm carrying my phone and look at it briefly during walk breaks and it's great to see the support.
There's a countdown and the race starts with the usual ultra-style cheering where we all start running - not fast like at a 5k start, but probably faster than what we will be running in the middle of the night.
1 mile on this pave path and we get to "the hub", where we will turn right and head south for about 3.5 miles before turning back, reach the hub again.
As I reach the end of this first out and back I'm greeted by Patrick Bene' who shows me where my stuff is - a prime spot on the corner under a canopy, easy to get to each time I pass through. Today Patrick is volunteering but at any given race he could be running out, volunteering or somehow doing both - or he could also be pacing if not running, he's going to do some pacing today for Andy "A2" Barrett.
Next, head east for 0.6 miles, leave the pavement and head north on a beautiful and easy to run 1.4 mile off road trail line with tall pine trees known as "the hall of pines", before reaching another paved road for a short distance to the "unmanned" aid station. Then turn back, reach Pump Station Road again, another 0.6 miles back to "the hub" before heading north onto the third spur of the course which I started calling "that awful lollipop". 0.5 miles north, turn right completing half of a circle, crossing the trail we just ran north on and complete the second half of the circle before heading south down the "stick" of the lollipop, 0.5 miles back to the road, take a right and then a couple hundred feet cross the timing mat.
I was wearing my new Camelbak dart and carrying a small handheld bottle. Plain water in the Camelbak and V-8 energy drink in the handheld. Weather was cool for the first lap.
I also probably ran too fast for the first lap, averaging 11:45 which included some walking because there's going to be some walking sooner or later, the sooner I start, the more running I'll end up doing. A pace of 14:24 would give me a time of 24 hours which is a good benchmark for a 100 mile race. But, I hadn't really been training much specifically for 100 miles. I'd been running, and did complete a 50k a couple weeks ago and knew I could finish in 32 hours (cut off), but beyond that wasn't sure what to expect.
(26 miles total, 12:11 average pace for this 12.5 miles)
I dropped off my camelbak at my spot in the hub and grabbed my 20oz bottle filled with Hammer's Perpetuum drink. Still on the cool side but I know it's going to get warmer. I decide to start slowing down a little more on purpose. Not too much though, because I want to get in some good miles during the daylight. I run slower at night and there's also a very high chance of rain coming through.
I finished the first out and back and as I went by where my drop bag was I remembered to stop and grab a piece of fudge. Jenny had made a batch of "never fail" fudge from a recipe on the back of a jar of marshmallow fluff. So, the joke was if you eat this you can't fail at whatever you are doing. I continued on the loop, eating the fudge and I felt a little pick up.
(38.5 miles, 13:29 average for 12.5 miles)
The start of loop 3, just under a marathon for distance, so not even yet in the ultra-marathon range, still pretty early in the day. Sun was getting warmer. There were a few miles here and there where I decided I was just going to walk the whole mile and see what kind of pace I could get. After a few minutes I'd change my mind and run for a minute and then go back to walking, so it was kind of a reverse ratio walk/run instead of run/walk. Didn't really lose that much time and then the next couple of miles after that I could go back to the 4/1 run/walk and felt a little recharged.
Finished up loop 3 in pretty good shape. As I went past the aid station on the way to the timing mat, I dropped off my camelbak for a top off. Abba's "Fernando" was playing and for a moment I felt good and forgot I still had about 100 more kilometers to run and that we were due for up to a "few hours" of rain with possible squalls and thunder.
Garmin mileage was starting to drift a little bit but still within a mile, maybe about a 1/2 mile off (I had it in Ultratrac mode to try and make the battery last. I also had a USB battery I was going to try to recharge with while running).
(51.0 miles total, 14:37 average for 12.5 miles)
So, on this lap I would lose a little bit of time toward making a 24 hour race, but it still seemed doable even though it wasn't really my goal, it kind of was.
Set out down the southbound trail. I was looking forward to getting into the 40's for mileage, because once you hit 41 miles there's only about 59 miles left to go which is kind of like just running 50 miles. The first out and back went pretty smoothly, got back to Pump Station Road for the 0.6 miles of pavement and headed north through the "Hall of Pines". But, before that, as I passed through "the hub" I saw Chris Coffin who told me that I had just missed Cynthia. Cynthia would be pacing me for lap 7 but I told her that if she had a chance to come out while it was light out so she'd be familiar with the area and so that she could get the signing of the waiver out of the way. She texted me, had started to head back at the car but realized she could catch up to me. I was doing a fast walk with a little bit of running and was looking back to see if she was getting close. Then after a few minutes she texted to say she gave up. But a little after that I could see someone running. She caught up to me and we chatted for a couple of minutes before she turned back and I continued on.
The trip north through the hall of pines was pleasant and I was feeling pretty good knowing I'd soon be at teh halfway point of the race. At some point I had a 10:32 mile, or it may have just been a garmin glitch. Made it out to the aid station, turned back. Reached Pump Station road. The road is raised up a bit, so from the trail back to the road is an embankment which would get a little harder to climb. Reached "the hub", turned right onto the lollipop trail, then back toward the timing mat. I was looking to see if Jessica was around, she was hoping to get out to see me around this time. Made it back around and grabbed my camelbak, kindly filled by one of the volunteers. Stopped by my drop bags to make sure I had two lights. Started to get going again and posted a progress update to facebook for anyone following. Saw that I had missed Jessica's text by ten minutes. Was bummed that I missed her and wished I'd checked my phone sooner or had told her to look for me at the corner of the hub where my drop bags were, but it was good to know she had come out and tried to find me.
(63.5 miles total, 16:44 average for 12.5 miles)
Here's where things would get a bit slower. The sun had set already and heading south down the trail, the last bits of light were vanishing. The mosquitoes were coming out. Earlier in the day I had sprayed on some "Bullfrog" combination sun screen and bug spray mainly for the sun screen. But that had been a while and most of it had probably been sweated away. I knew the mosquitoes wouldn't be bad for that long but it was not a great way to start the loop. Negative thoughts were getting in my head. I wouldn't have a pacer until the 7th lap, and it might be even later than that depending on what time Cynthia could make it out. Rain was on its way. Sometimes you see those forecasts where there's an hour window and it's like 70% chance of rain, and then it's 50% chance, and so on. But this forecast said "100%", and that was for a few hours before it tapered off. There was no way we'd miss it.
I was beginning to worry about making it through the night. Then I got a text from Daisy. She'd been seeing my facebook updates and said she could run with me for some of it. She said she didn't have a light but would use her phone. There's not too many people who will offer to meet out in a park in the dark. We exchanged a few texts figuring out what time to meet, she was out to dinner with her husband, but could probably come out after that.
Made it past the log with the sign that said "Tonight this log will be a gator". Fortunately it was still a log.
Finished the out and back, and then back on Pump Station Road for another 0.6 miles of pavement. Jenny had texted me asking for a location update. Then she said Tom had just gotten back from volunteering and she was going to bring him out to say hi. Yesterday, I had texted Tom and Andy inviting them out to stop by if they were bored and wanted to check out the race. I'd pretty much hardly planned out anything about this race and Andy already had plans to meet friends out. Told Jenny I had to finish the round trip to Aid Station 3 and would then be back at the hub.
Made it back to Pump Station road, made it to the view of the tent city at the hub and as I approached the intersection, I saw three people standing there. Jenny, Tom, and Joe. Joe was a complete surprise. He was a "maybe" for showing up for the last lap, nothing definite at all. Joe was there to pace me for loop 6. Jenny and Tom were there to say hi so they came along with me while I did the "awful lollipop". I was doing some walking and a little bit of "running", although all Tom had to do was lengthen his walking stride a little to keep up.
Came back around to the timing mat where Joe was waiting. Thanked Jenny and Tom for coming out and then headed onto the south trail with Joe for loop 6.
(76.0 miles total, 17:23 average for 12.5 miles)
It was good to have Joe and his positive attitude. It becomes a brand new race once you have a pacer along. Western States was like that, and then I relearned it at Oil Creek. There had been some sprinkles earlier and I knew the rain was coming soon. I had a rain poncho in my drop bag but Joe had two with him ready to go so I didn't dig through my bag. I think we made it to the southern aid station and started back north when we the scattered sprinkles turned to a steady rain. Kept moving along, made it back to the road and then north through the hall of pines. At some point around there, we were on a walk break that had been over extended. It was raining and I did not want to be here. Joe said "do you want to start running again". I said no. He kind of ignored that and we were soon back to running a couple of minutes and walking a minute or so. It was slow but we were making steady progress. We made it to the northern aid station, also known as the "unmanned aid station" even though it was staffed. We were out of the rain for just a little bit which felt nice. Can't remember what I ate, maybe some pickles or some broth or a sandwich quarter.
I had been trying to charge my garmin. I had a portable charger with me but, either because of the rain or because I had brought the imitation charging cable I could not get it to charge. My garmin was not going to make it.
Headed back out onto the road and soon could see headlamps of runners on the trail in the woods parallel to the road - we had missed our turn off, but not by too much and just backtracked a little and cut back onto the trail.
Still raining. My plan was that once the loop was finished I was going to wait under the canopy where my drop bag was. Wait for the rain to stop or it to get light out. I'd still have enough time to finish.
But, as we got closer to the end of loop 6, the rain was becoming less and less and it had probably been stopped for about 30 minutes by the time I was back at the canopy. I decided I'd keep going. But, first I'd sit for a little bit. I had Joe text Cynthia to give her updates and how to meet up with me, to try and catch me after I did the out and back on the southern trail. Joe said I could borrow his garmin for the rest of the race. Besides mine running out of battery, the other problem I was having is that the rain was making it switch displays. Joe's garmin only has buttons. I have buttons and swipe. The swipe was getting activated by the rain.
(88.5 miles total, 18:00 average for 12.5 miles)
I think I only sat for about 10 minutes or so. The rain had stopped and I was feeling much better. It looked like Cynthia would make it out by the time I finished the first out and back. With the sitting and getting myself ready for the next loop, the first mile of loop 7 was 30 minutes long - slowest mile of the race, but not bad considering I was thinking of sitting down for a few hours. The next few miles I was actually feeling really good (at least relatively for it being near the middle of the night), two miles in a row in the 14's - 14:43 and 14:24, then 16:12, 17:09, 15:52, and 14:12. Sometime in those miles, as I was heading back north toward the hub, the rain came back, but this time it soon started dumping and there was some lightning. I was counting the time between the flashes and the thunder, and after a couple of close ones (2-3 seconds), they started getting farther away and soon were gone, rain was maybe about 15 minutes long this time.
I think it was on this loop (or maybe it was on loop 5), coming north on the southern out and back, I looked to the left and was startled to see a dead horse laying on its side on the edge of the trail. No, wait, not a dead horse just some dried palm fronds in the shape of a horse. I didn't fall for the log alligator but was caught off guard by the palm horse.
As I approached the hub, was checking for messages from Cynthia. Saw a slew of messages between Joe and Cynthia with directions and updates and the last messages saying she had just parked, was getting her running clothes together and heading to the hub. I didn't want to stop but went a little slower while figuring out how to meet up. She soon caught up to me and we started back to run/walk although with the slowdown this mile would be about 23 minutes.
Even though I was now halfway into the 7th out of 8 loops it still seemed like the race would take forever and that it would be dark forever also. Both of these were far from scientifically accurate but that's what it felt like.
Made it out to the northern aid station. On the way out I told Cynthia we needed to make sure we didn't miss the turn off from the road back to the trail. On the way back we missed the turn off, but this time by less than the last time and were soon back on the correct trail. Rest of the loop was good and 7 of out of 8 was now done.
(101.0 miles total, 16:00 average for 12.5 miles)
Still seemed like a long way to go. Cynthia could stick around for the out and back, giving her one complete loop.
Half way down the southern trail, the going got really sloppy. Cynthia kept on looking for ways to hop from dry spot to dry spot but it was soon futile. It was either mud or puddles. I think the slop was about a mile and a half long. Approached the aid station for the last time. Asked Cynthia if she could hear the guy hollering. She didn't at first but soon did. What is that? she asked. One of the volunteers there, all day and through the night would let out a series of yells as each runner approached. Not sure how he didn't lose his voice, but it was appreciated.
Leaving the aid station I had to call back for Cynthia, she had thought it was a turn around point. I wished it was, had to get through some extra sloppy slop before getting back to the section heading north. Eventually made it through the slop, and then back on solid ground.
Hints of light were starting to show up in the sky. We were getting closer to the hub and its tent city and then we were there. Said goodbye to Cynthia and headed east on the road and then north through the hall of pines. I approached the last aid station for the very last time. One of the volunteers said "nice shuffle", couldn't tell if it was a compliment or a good natured insult, she asked what I needed and I said "nothing, just tagging the base", then I turned around.
Then one last trip through the "awful lollipop" which this time was not awful at all, and then finally the timing mat for the very last time.
I cross the finish line and see the race director Andy and I say something corny like "that's a wrap" and then he hands me my finishers buckle. Jessica texts me and says she's close by and asks if I finished yet, I look down the road and see her heading my way, just missed me. We walk over to my drop bag area and I sit down for only the second time in the past 25 hours, it feels good to sit, I hold up the buckle and get a picture.
In 2013 I ran my first 100 mile race, after being very lucky to get into the Western States 100. I qualified to enter into the lottery at the Croom Fools Run 50 mile race, a race that I ran after switching my entry from the 50K. Race director Andy Matthews (aka Andy Croom) has always been supportive and encouraging of me even though he easily has 100's of people running his various races, maybe even 1000's but somehow treats everyone like they are the star of the team.
So, the Western States rules changed and the Croom Fools Run 50 miler was no longer a qualifier. Finding the nearest qualifier would mean going to Alabama, Georgia, or North Carolina. So, Andy and his wife Amy decided they'd bring back a qulifying race to Florida. 100 miles, at least 100 finishers.
So, in July I signed up for this race, hoping to be 1 out of at least 100 finishers. But, there was a slight problem. I was trying to get my marathon run training back on track by following a structured plan and targeting a race in December. There is some overlap between marathon training and ultra-marathon training but to do your best at either one means not doing the most ideal training for the other. But, I was pretty sure I could do this.
With less than ideal training but with the knowledge that I could do this I went in with low expectations. It was difficult at times during the low points when legs were tired and there was still halfway to go but with a little help and encouragement from friends and families I was able to do the job.