Tag Archive for Keila Merino

Consistent Loopiness at the USATF 50K Road Championships

50K

A big draw to the Caumsett 50K is the fact the race doubles as the USATF 50KM Road Championships.

My first race of the year would be an ultra. That’s largely due to deciding to pass on focusing on the Boston Marathon as I have done the past four years. I guess I’m just not a streaker anymore! (Runner slang for consecutive days running or repeat racing, not the other type of running with no clothes on). With the ‘freedom’ of no marathon to train for, I knew the calendar of winter race options was my oyster. Talking of oysters, I ended up turning my attention to a local race, not so far from Oyster Bay. A road 50K in Caumsett State Park (which doubles as the far more glamorous title of the USATF 50K Road Championships race) was my choice. It’s a race that’s been on my radar for a few years and now seemed the right time to give it a go.

I begun training at the start of December which felt odd to me starting my 2015 campaign in 2014. I’ve never trained through the Holiday season and I knew that would be a tough phase to get through without losing focus. I was slightly lost how to go about training for a 50K road race with a firm emphasis on the word ‘road’. All of my previous 50K’s have been on trails, some gnarlier than others, but all without too much fixation on pace or goal time. I would have to hang my head if this wasn’t going to be a PR day.

RUN SMART PROJECT

A Scientific Approach To Becoming A Faster Runner

I knew this race could be almost run like a marathon, just slightly less gas to save the engine for another 5+ miles. But I just didn’t have any great knowledge of how to train for it. Luckily, my good friends at The Run Smart Project do and they customized a nice 3-month plan for me. Through the winter months, I found some excuses to not run every run prescribed, something I’ve never really had much trouble with before. Whether it was because training in December in NYC is hard (the park is dead), my travel schedule involved two trips to Europe (not complaining) or I just wanted to stay home and play with our new Weimaraner puppy, Miles, instead of facing the cold winter nights I’m not sure. But most of the time I did layer up and train and put in good, not great speed workouts.

Pre-Juno

Full on training mode in Central Park while the rest of the city hunkered down pre-winter storm Juno.

The training plan gives a predicted goal time (if you follow it precisely) and mine for March 1st read 3:22 goal time. I knew my fitness level was not there (it would have meant a marathon PR en route FYI) so I played a more cautious approach of aiming for a window between 3:30-40 which was in the 7-min pace range. I was hopeful but not convinced that was where I was, which I shared with my friend Ken Posner pre-race. I was however convinced that my 4:33 50K PR was about to be taken down though!

Ten 5K loops awaited me on a course I knew little about. I had chatted with Ian Torrence and Emily Harrison about this race a year ago and they said it was “definitely not flat”. I didn’t know exactly how to interpret that but was about to find out.

I asked around for information about what drinks were on the course but couldn’t seem to find a consistent answer. Bremen told me he thought it was Hammer which is low on sugar compared to other brands and therefore low on my list (sorry Hammer). I jammed four Honey Stinger gels into my gloves and tights and had more in my bag if I really needed to come back and reload. I had made a rookie diabetes mistake of trying to calibrate a new sensor for my CGM in the morning but the calibration hadn’t finished in time so carrying it was now worthless. The plus side of this mini disaster was that I had room for some more gels! The glass is always half full as a diabetic athlete : )

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8:30am on a cold day. Nothing better to do than start running! Photo credit: GLIRC

We took off in the bitter cold and I found myself letting a large number of male elites bomb ahead as I settled into a sub-7 pace alongside the returning female champ and course record holder, Emily Harrison. She had run a 3:17 last year so I quickly decided to ease up some more and try to relax into an honest pace.

The first mile was flat and then a long downhill, mile two, uphill and some rollers and the last mile went past the finish chute on and out and back lollipop loop which unfortunately involved lots of ice sections and cold puddles. I have nothing wrong with getting dirty but wasn’t this a national championship road race? This section was definitely the biggest challenge and hard to maintain a good pace.

By now, I had figured out that Gatorade was the electrolyte drink of choice on the course every 1.55 mile or so. With this really great news, I was able to quickly recalculate how and when to consume my carbs. Being that the type of race was not dissimilar to a marathon (where I don’t check my CGM often), I opted for my ‘every even mile’ carb intake approach.

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Fully focused on pace and monitoring my body. Photo credit: GLIRC

I ran lap 1 in sub-21 and felt that was probably slightly aggressive. The elites remained a bunch of five slowly stretching the gap on me (and others), Emily and Phil McCarthy ran separately ahead of me and I sat solo with a bunch of ten guys in hot pursuit to my rear.

I’m not sure how to ‘jazz up’ 10 x 5K loops but it was surprisingly far from boring. This is coming from the ‘I don’t do loop races’ guy. The repetitiveness of loops made the race a mathematical game for me. Lap after lap I was running consistent sub-21’s (I did not slow down after all) so I could predict the clock time down to a few seconds. As I passed by a really inspiring buddy of mine, Ken Tom, he said to me I made it look easy but I joked back “wait until lap 8”. But lap 8 eventually came and my pace did not waver. I am not trying to downplay the race or the distance. An ultra is hard, heck marathons are hard, running is hard. But today I locked in a pace and maintained it really well. I think I have to thank the monotony of loops for that.

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On the hunt in the second half of the race. Photo credit: GLIRC

Once I had finally caught and passed Phil McCarthy at the halfway mark, I knew I had to keep pushing on and swallow some more runners up if I was going to make an indent on the Top 10 USATF results board. I never actually knew my place but knew I was likely on the outside looking in. But to keep me in check of how this was all going, I got then got lapped by eventual winner Zachary Ornelas (Sketchers) before I could complete lap 6. I ate humble pie big time! He was flying.

Due to the course, especially the last section, it was obvious to see which guys ahead were my targets. All of my focus was on closing that gap. The only other thing I had to think about timing my next Gatorade or Honey Stinger.

Lap seven went by, same gap. Lap eight completed, same gap. Lap nine, same gap. Whatever my place, it seemed locked in. The two guys ahead were not slowing down. What was pretty cool about the second to last lap was running through the timed mat to collect an official marathon time. I saw my watch flip to 2:55 on the nose as I came by. Nothing spectacular but it made me smile as that was first ever sub-3 in NY state (I have a long-term goal of going sub-3 in 50 states). On the same lap, I did manage to un-lap myself from third place which did nothing for my overall place and then caught Emily Harrison which did nothing for my Top 10 USATF overall men place. But what it did do was show me, I was running strong while others were fading.

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Stop for nothing. I was locked in to consistent lap times and felt strong every time. Photo credit: GLIRC

On the final loop, I pushed and pushed just in case I could catch someone but my pace stayed at 6:35. My body was telling me this is it buddy, shouldn’t have skipped those workouts in December!The uphills now really beat my legs up (although they were gradual gradients or short rollers). I was going to sneak a peek at the finish clock before my final out and back section to see if I would make sub-3:30 but I already knew that goal was locked in so just ran, and ran hard through to the finish in a time of 3:27, a nice 66 minute PR!

Bremen, who ran the 25K (2nd place!), met me at the finish as snow was now coming down and I soon quickly realized how cold it had been out there. A giant blanket donated from him and some tomato soup was just the ticket I needed. I was content with my performance (almost as good as my post-race blood glucose!). I had to be. I got out of it what I put into it.

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Post-race friends hangout: Bremen, Ken Tom, Lucimar, Keila, Phil and Ken. A lot of cool war stories between this group! Photo credit: Keila Merino

At the awards, I had my fingers crossed that I had pulled off 10th USATF place but alas, I was short by two; 13th overall, 12th USATF with an average pace of 6:41. As the snowstorm continued, I hung out with my amazing ultra friends, grabbed some lunch and packed up shop before the storm got any worse. It was such a great race to be running with the likes of Keila, Zandy, Trishul and Ian Torrence and those mentioned earlier.  Running and friends. Oh, for the simple life.

A huge thank you to the Run Smart Project for my custom plan. I surprised myself with how well I ran but know I can still improve dramatically at this distance and surface. Top 10 next year? We will see.

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Consistent 5K splits. My marathon time was 2:55; first official sub-3 marathon for the state of NY!

Feeling Good at the Vermont 100

Green Vermont mountains. Photo credit: Amy Rusiecki

Green Vermont mountains everywhere. Photo credit: Amy Rusiecki

Pre-race Goal Setting & Strategy

The Vermont 100 aka the VT100, was probably my first real race since school XC days that I approached it without any fixed goals. No time splits, average pace stuff and no finish time predictions. I did have one clear goal however; to run as fast as possible from start to finish ‘feeling good’. But that was it, nothing more. A new approach to running a very long way.

VT100 logo -

‘One step at a time’, a fitting slogan for my race strategy.

My former runner brain told me to be obsessed with breaking 20 hours. I knew the course would potentially allow for this with a great race but I respected and trusted my coach to guide me into a new way of setting running goals. By running on feel, my ability would do the talking for me. Perhaps I would break 20 anyway or maybe it would be 22 or the flip of that, 18? By not obsessing over numbers, I no longer would be able to feel like I was ahead or behind during the race (goodbye anxiety and stress). Just look at what Kilian produced at Hardrock the week prior. He ran ‘easy’ for 70 miles and then took off for the last 30 because he felt so good. He even dropped his more than capable pacer (Rickey Gates) because he began moving so fast. But alas, I am not Kilian, nobody is, but I and we can learn from the best and their style of running.

The day prior to traveling up to Vermont, I listened to my trusty source of trail running tips and humor from Trail Runner Nation. It was ironically fitting that the topic of conversation was Vermont and how to race on feel with guests Jimmy Dean Freeman – attempting the six original 100-milers in 13 weeks(!!) and my coach, Ian. For those intrigued, here’s a link to the podcast to what I’m talking about by running on feel;

JDF – Original Six Hundo – 2 Down – Mentor Ian Sharman | Trail Runner Nation

Listening to this was like getting a last-minute pep talk. Just in case, I wanted to say screw it, this approach sounds so vague, listening to this reassured me, this was how to do it. The detailed OCD sub-20 hour plan I had scribbled on my elevation profile chart weeks earlier was handed over to my crew on the 5-hour drive north Friday morning. Luckily for me, I had never re-read it to memorize any of it. It was now just a very basic guide to where I would possibly be for my crew of Tiffany, Francis and Rui (both paced me at Leadville in 2012) at each major aid station. Typical of them, they didn’t blink an eyelid to my very new approach which speaks so highly of who they are. They respected my strategy even though it would make it harder for them to track me down. Tip 1 for new 100 mile runners – get awesome crew!

My crew of Rui, Tiffany and Francis were priceless all weekend long. #VT1002014

My crew of Rui, Tiffany and Francis were priceless to me all weekend long. #VT1002014

VT100 course elevation and aid stations

VT100 course elevation with various aid stations.

Like Jimmy did recently at Western States three weeks prior, I couldn’t quite tear myself away from all my race data and planned to wear my heart rate (HR) monitor for the first 20 to 30 miles to guide me, capping my efforts at 150 bpm up the early climbs. And of course I would have my Garmin Fenix to keep track of all the data, yet I set my screen to only show elapsed time and my HR information.

July 19th – Race Day

Waking up at 2:15am Saturday morning felt anything like it. I had managed four hours of shut-eye and I was now ready to get going, my adrenaline was in full force. First things first though; a blood test. I was perfectly steady in the mid-100’s and I went to the kitchen to consume a couple of bowls of Honey Nut Cheerio’s, a yogurt, granola bar and a banana. Feeding the body calories now seemed to be the best move knowing a few hours later on in the day, I would not be craving real food so enthusiastically.

3:59am. VT100 start line at Silver Hill Meadow

3:59am. VT100 start line at Silver Hill Meadow. Photo credit: Vermont 100

In the dark fields of Silver Hill Meadow, 300 runners set off down a wide dirt road at 4am. As I had been warned, some runners leapt out in front at marathon pace. My extent of course knowledge was limited to knowing what sections were up or down and the names of aid stations only because I was carrying a laminated course elevation chart in my shirt pocket. I was basically out there just following yellow plates with black arrows or the guy ahead of me hoping he or she was paying attention. After a mile or so of road, the route turned sharp right onto a trail with some rocks and mud (that I was surprised to see on the course) and we began the first climb of what would be many. The course was renowned for being a relentless series of hills in humid conditions. Nothing too long or too steep but it would equate to 14,000 feet of ascent by the time we had covered the distance. This was great prep for Tahoe 200 (40,000 feet) and was a big factor why I was here. We all lucked out on the humidity factor though. This was not to be a hot race compared to years past. On one hand, I looked back and was annoyed I had put in  all those runs in Central Park with four layers on for what?! But on the other, I was relieved. 100 miles is hard enough without having to drown in sweat all day and worry about body temperature.

After an hour and change, the headlamp came off. The sun hadn’t quite risen but the openness of the land plus the non-technical terrain allowed me to be free of my Petzl Nao’s mega bulb. That headlamp is serious business people, highly recommended! At 5 miles, a hike up Densmore Hill was the first time to test out my strategic patience. Being able to resist the run and hike up gradients seems to be all part of the game at Vermont. This early on, everything feels great, my goal was to feel great all day long. Lots of folks around me pushed on while I went to power hike mode. My HR hovered at 151 and I knew I was now at my limit.

My ‘feeling good’ approach to the race took its first turn south at mile 10 however. Some very abnormal stomach cramps set in and I scrambled to figure out what was going on. After a little internal freak out, I nailed it down to nothing more than nature calling and took a detour into the woods (note; this was not someone’s property line! Last year, a runner pooped in a local’s blueberry bush which as you can imagine, caused quite the stir in town). Of course, this ordeal meant losing some time but the bigger picture was that I immediately felt better. Embarrassingly to admit, this scenario played out another five times throughout the first half of the race! I took the positive spin on this that I was definitely not going out too fast with all of these breaks.

Rolling into Pretty Horse (not feeling good!) with a veteran VT100 runner going for #11.

Rolling into Pretty Horse (not feeling so good!) with Prasad Gerard; a veteran VT100 runner going for #11.

Apart from my bathroom needs, the legs, lungs and mind were all feeling great. “How am I feeling?” was the question I would repeatedly ask myself. This could be to do with anything from drinking, getting calories down, salt pills, blood glucose levels or my effort level. The various topics were the same from mile 1 to mile 100. It was like the wheel of fortune landing on a different number (in my case, topic) each time. Doing so took focus and is why I didn’t care when I read in the pre-race literature that music was banned from the course. To not have any music as a distraction for me over 100 miles would be a first but my assumption of the rule was that running alongside horses was probably deemed a fairly dangerous situation! That’s right, this race was run alongside horses!

Not your average 100 miler!  Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Not your average 100 miler! Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Sidenote: For those not in the know, this 100 mile malarkey that I can’t seem to get enough of came about 41 years ago because of a 100 mile horse race gone wrong for a guy called Gordy out in California. His horse went lame so the next year he ran the distance on foot and finished it in just under 24 hours. The next year more runners showed up and that race became known as the Western States 100. I talk about it from time to time!

This was my (and likely many others) first time ever running a race alongside horses. It took some good communication skills from both the rider and runner how to let the four-legged guys go by without any ugly mishaps. When the first horse ran up behind me (their race started an hour or so behind ours), I shifted to the left of the trail slowly and let them by while still running. The guy in front of me took a slightly different approach leaping off the trail and then standing still, looking petrified! Either he was in for a long day of this or I was doing something very wrong and about to find out about it.

To my surprise, I caught back up to one of the handful of horses that passed when descending a somewhat steep stretch and passed them back. “Oh. Think you’re getting away from me do you?!” heckled the rider to me. I assured her my ego was not that big that I thought I was going to beat her horse, I just wasn’t much enjoying standing behind a big horse.  These were the only occasions you would (if dare) rarely pass them. The other time would be when they were drinking from their troughs on mandatory 45-minute breaks. While we ate gummy bears, M&M’s and gels, our four-legged friends were more into grains, carrots and apples (I am not a horse expert – a rider kindly filled me in on all this info).

Taftsville Covered Bridge at mile 15

Taftsville Covered Bridge at mile 15. Photo credit: Vermont 100

One of the highlights of the day came early descending a long hill to Stage Road aid station. The runner ahead turned as I approached and said “Oh, I thought you were a horse!” In any other scenario, I would have taken being called a horse as highly offensive but this was one of the highest compliments I think you can say to a runner on the Vermont course! All I was doing was letting the grade take me downhill swiftly refusing to break to try to save my quads. It resulted in quite the fast pace, definitely nothing manageable for a long period of time.

At 30 miles in, the legs began to finally get that tingly sensation in them, the kind all ultra runners know. At this point I had caught up to Keila and Karen (running together) and felt a bit more assured when Karen mentioned her legs felt the same way. All three of us ran into Stage Road aid together and saw a bunch of our friends there. It was like Cayuga 50 all other again, so fantastic to see so many friendly faces.

Cranking through the miles and loving it once more!

Cranking through the miles and loving it! Photo credit: Nanci Photography

Rui ushered me over to the crew area like I was a plane needing fuel which wasn’t far from the truth. My blood glucose was now 98 and it was time to get some carbs in to push that number back up. My crew had everything ready spread out on a blanket (I heard later kids looked enviously on at the goodies on display).

This was a bit smoother than the first aid station at Pretty Horse ten miles earlier. Tom (Elaine’s fiancé and crew chief) had asked me if I wanted my drop bag. “Drop bag?” (I didn’t have any) I said, “No. Where’s Tiffany?” I then turned to my right to see a very stressed and fast approaching Francis and Rui charging towards me. I got a good chuckle out of it, they didn’t find it so funny as they were about a minute from missing me.

While Tiffany was getting more ice into my bandana and cap, Rui was grabbing me foods and drink that I requested for my pack which left Frankie rubbing Aquaphor on my legs.  Bug spray, sunscreen, by whoever was free next and then off again. What may sound like chaos was fairly well controlled, everyone with a job to do. All hands were on deck at aid stations but these interchanges were definitely the highlights of the day for me. Giving them a review of the last X miles, how I felt at that given moment and then normally me making an awful joke about something. This was what it was about, having fun with my friends while doing something crazy because after all, 100 miles is crazy. I’m fully aware.

Through the second and final covered bridge (Lincoln) of the day at mile 40 took me towards the hardest climb yet up to Barr House. I had asked my buddy Tony Carino a week before for course knowledge (he ran a sub-20 in 2013) and he said everything was runnable until 70. I forgot to remind myself that Tony is a monster climber!!! I happily put my head down and hiked the steep pitch up until finally reaching an unmanned table with water and Gatorade – the sign that the climb was over.

By now, I had discarded my heart rate monitor. I was well into my groove so had no need to risk chafing my torso for some almost irrelevant heart rate readings going forward. As the sun was now up, my concern was more on staying cool with ice, hydrating smart and getting calories in constantly. My stomach pains were coming and going but now they were more to do with the running. Luckily, my palette was taking well to Honey Stinger waffles so I went through a good few of those which clocked up 160 calories each time. I knew by keeping some sort of food in my hand as much as possible, it would remind myself to keep grazing. As for now, this food plan was working like clockwork.

Walking out of Camp 10 Bear with words of encouragement from Tiffany and Rui.

Walking out of Camp 10 Bear with words of encouragement from Tiffany and Rui. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

I arrived at Camp 10 Bear, mile 47 (the main aid station which doubled as mile 70 where I would pick up my first pacer later) expecting a carnage of people and cars, much like you get at Winfield in Leadville. But this was Vermont and although one of the major four 100 mile races in the States, this was not what I call a big aid station. The welcome and energy from other crews made it great regardless. I hopped on the scales and hoped to see no weight loss from my Friday medical. One pound up in fact. I blame those waffles!

Shy of halfway, all was going well. How did I know? Because I asked myself “How are you feeling?” and all that mattered was my answer to that question time and time again. My crew brought me lunch as we had discussed the importance of real food as much as possible. A toasted bacon and cheese panini sandwich with arugula. Remember tip 1 for new 100 mile runners? Get awesome crew! I took half of the sandwich with me, restocked the bag and rolled on. Tiffany and Rui checked in with me as they were more aware than me that I was moving well and well under the taboo time of sub-20 but I assured them I was running my own race and was feeling good. The sandwich was a challenge however. It took me well over an hour to eat it. My stomach could handle waffles but this was a different story. My body was beginning to fight back, that darn stomach of mine.

At the halfway point according to my GPS ‘during my lunch hour’ I caught up with Otto climbing up to Pinky’s. Otto is quite simply a nut job. He runs more 100’s than I run training runs and is incredibly funny, I just can’t figure out if he means to be funny! He was in shock to see me coming from behind when I welcomed myself. “What are you doing here?!” he said in shock seeing me behind him. Otto is famous in our ultra circle for starting out fast and crawling home, but always making it home. I don’t think he has ever quit any of his many races. My response was simply “What are you doing here?!” He then questioned the situation “Either you are slow today or I am doing something wrong”. We laughed about it and pushed on ahead wishing him luck, not that he needed it. He just needed to pace himself and would be on for 21-22 hours. I knew where I was too now. I was just over 9 hours on the clock and my mind started to drift ahead to a sub-18 goal. This was probably a bit suicidal but I knew I was in that mix, especially if I could get to my pacers feeling OK. I remembered my strategy quickly though going back to the present “How am I feeling?” and continued on up the hill.

Restocking at Seven Sees with the crew.

Restocking at Seven Sees with the crew. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

At Pinky’s aid, I wasted no time passing a weary looking Kevin Shelton-Smith looking to feast on all the goodies to get out of his low. He had bombed off the front with Brian Rusiecki (the race favorite), something Kevin likes to do. I wasn’t just passing my friends from NYC though, I was clipping off new friends too and having great conversations or small talk with all of them from Megan running solo to Dave who I recognized from Western States last year to high-fiving Jimmy Dean who I had barely met a few hours earlier when we small talked about his podcast. I love the interaction in this sport because the respect for one another is honest and we truly care for each other out there no matter how much we want to beat the other to the line.

A long ascent got me to mile 58 and the Seven Sees aid. It was the last crew meet up before pacers as they would skip Margaritaville because Francis had to get ready to pace me back at Camp 10 Bear. I knew he of all people was sad to miss out on that aid station! As rumors had it, this pace was decked out to the nines and would be my number one place to volunteer at in the future. They turned me down for an ‘adult drink’, not because I didn’t have ID but because I was too early the volunteer told me! 38 miles with a margarita on board might not have made the most sense anyway.

Back on the scales at Camp 10 Bear. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Back on the scales at Camp 10 Bear. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

I had definitely taken a cut back on my calorie intake the last 20 miles. My stomach was struggling to accept anything. What drove me forward with momentum was the excitement of getting to run with my pacers soon. Up and over a climb, I ran strong into Camp 10 Bear. At 70 miles, it was the furthest I had ever run solo (Tahoe 200 will have the same rule in effect). Back on the scales for the public weigh-in, I had now lost my one pound from mile 46 and was back to square one. Tiffany offered me the other half of the sandwich from lunch to which I almost vomited just thinking about real food. My stomach was definitely my weakest link. I pretended to myself this wasn’t an issue but I knew it was or would eventually be. With the sun going down, I decided to ditch the hat and neck bandana which had been my ice holders all day long in the sun. But I kept the pack on, kept the same shoes and socks on. I wanted to simulate Tahoe as much as possible.

30 miles to go, now with my trusty pacers. First up, Francis.

30 miles to go, now with my trusty pacers. First up, Francis. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Mile 75 and feeling good! Photo credit: Francis Laros

Mile 75 and feeling good! Photo credit: Francis Laros

My only change was a fresh shirt and I was set for Francis to be my companion for the next 7 miles. We had decided as group to flip pacers more than normal. Francis would get a 7 and a 6 mile leg (mostly uphill) and Rui would get a 12 mile stretch and the last 5 (both mostly down) suiting their strengths (Tiffany unfortunately just found out the week prior to the race, she has a serious hip injury so had to work the crew chief full-time shift. I know it was tough for her to be there around all these runners and not get to pace. She is a tough cookie and I’m so happy she could put on a brave face at a very frustrating time for her. She is amazing and I love her so much for everything she does for me.)

First off, we had what I was told was the hardest climb of the day back out of Camp 10 Bear. To be honest, I barely recall it. We talked easily and hiked efficiently. It was an absolute blast to have company and for those that don’t know Francis, his company and endless stories are second to none. With a couple of winding single track downhills thrown in to the section, we moved well. Francis was almost giggling to himself during one stretch because it was so effortless. My watch had long died since mile 60 so I was completely running by feel. He told me we clocked a 7:35 mile at one point. I did not believe him but he insisted it was true.

Entering Spirit of 76 aid after 7 fantastic miles with Francis.  Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Entering Spirit of 76 aid after 7 fantastic miles with Francis. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

A fifth and final climb took us over a road and up to the welcoming aid station of Spirit of 76. The volunteer at the top pretended to pull us up with some rope while we demanded to use the ski lift. All stupid stuff but it shows you how much fun we were having out there on Saturday night, now with over 76 miles in my legs.

Spirits are high at Spirit of 76.  Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Spirits are high at Spirit of 76. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

My buddy Jun was departing the aid station as I approached. We smiled and waved (it took me until the next day to realize he was running solo – no crew, no pacers, the same as Otto – RESPECT!). At every aid station, I really had two crews. Mine and Keila’s (Heidi, Benny and Denie) because she was always a few minutes behind since halfway. It was so great to have a handful of friends always there for me ready to do anything I needed. But no one got Francis’s Aquaphor job!

Rui’s turn and little did I know but this segment would be the hardest yet by a stretch. It was the old duo back together. Rui and me have great memories of bombing down Hope Pass two years ago, maybe too fast in reality and we were out to seek some more great downhills now. For the first five miles everything was working out that way, moving good, power hiking ups, never really walking anything. And then at mile 83 on a flat road, that all changed.

I felt my skin go pale, my head go faint and I started to stumble around with no energy whatsoever. My stomach hurt once again and almost immediatley I was dry heaving onto someone’s lawn (sorry!) with my fingers down my throat. There’s not anything much more painful than being sick I find. Unfortunately, because I had been failing to put solids in well the last 25 miles or so, I was failing to bring anything decent back up. Jimmy passed me by and gave me some encouragement, “suck it up bro” or similar words. It was kind of a blurry low in my race so forgive me for not remembering  it exact but I appreciated it. He was right, suck it up. This was really my first low of the race at mile 83. Not bad really!

I gingerly stood up, took a couple of deep breathes and then we continued. Really slowly at first. Rui insisted on me getting in some S-caps and i washed them down with Tailwind (it was the best I could do for calories at this point). Within minutes, I was back to running and we caught up to Jimmy and his pacer Scott. He was in a bit of shock to see me but we joked I was back from the dead! I explained to him while we ran as a group of four my last few hours of running. Amazingly, Jimmy completely nailed what had happened to me because it had happened to him before. By removing my cap and bandana full of ice (at Camp 10 Bear) because I deemed the evening time not necessary to use them anymore, I had begun to overheat. The humidity had very subtly got higher as the sun went down. He had ice-cold water in his bottle and I sprayed the back of my neck and felt the difference. Now I just had to get to Bill’s aid (88) and get the ice back on! We ran together for a couple of miles before I had to back off the pace again. But before I reached Bill’s, I noticed my insulin insert had fallen off my stomach due to the sweat and ice dripping down it all day long.

Our pace went back to a hike and I had to drag my ass to Bill’s having now, my second low point in the span of five miles. Rui put his headlamp on but I stubbornly refused. I had set a new goal to get to Bill’s headlamp free and did that although barely. I knew Rui was concerned but he kept me moving. At Bill’s, I wandered over to the medics at the barn and got on the scales. I was down to 176, a 4 pound loss. “How do you feel?” the medic asked me. It was a great question, one I must have been failing to ask of myself for a few miles now because I felt awful. My grumbled response of “OK. Tired” wasn’t my best ever performance of faking the good life but she understood. I was at mile 88, my weight was steady enough and so they let me go over to my crew to proceed.

I walked over to the crew area set up at a section of grass and decided enough was enough and  lay down on it. It was my first time off my feet in 88 miles. I had beaten my previous best of 80 miles at Western States.

My crew grabbed me hot noodle soup that I had been craving for about 7 miles now but was only available for the first time now. As they got my headlamp ready for me and some food into my backpack (just in case I could miraculously eat anything else for the last 12 miles) I checked my glucose which was now higher than planned due to the insert incidence. Perhaps another factor why I had probably had a really rough patch. I made some adjustments with my insulin, had yet another bathroom break and then I was back on the trail with Francis. It had been the longest aid stop by far today.

As soon as we left, my walking very slowly increased and Francis made it a point to tell me. After a half mile or so, we reached the next downhill and just like that, I began to run again. All the way down and then all the way back up to Polly’s aid (95), Francis kept me going strong. It was as if the sickness, the long aid station stop at Bill’s belonged to a different race. That’s the magic of ultra running right there. Those miles seemed so straight forward so soon after a chaotic five-mile stretch.

When we approached Tiffany and Rui for the last hand off, we already knew what we needed to do. Be efficient. Francis announced to them, this was going to be a quick aid stop. Blood test, refill of water and electrolyte drinks and go. It was all business mode again now and I caught Rui off guard by this turn of events.

No time to stop with 5 to go as Francis and Rui do a Garmin exchange.  Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

No time to stop with 5 to go as Francis and Rui do a Garmin exchange. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

I looked over at Rui as we left the aid, realizing he was wearing three layers. “What are you wearing Rui?” I asked him puzzled. “Well, you looked pretty bad back there so I put some layers on”. You have to realize that Rui got given the last leg at Leadville too where we army marched 10 miles home between 4am and 8am in the freezing cold. He started to shed layers as it soon became apparent that we were about to kick the last 5 miles apart together pretty efficiently. I asked him where we were for time. I wanted to know if we were over or under the 20 hour goal time. He did the math and knew we had to run 14 minute miles to go under.

Running a gradual descent, this was exciting news. We were both so pumped, we knew it would take a real curve ball now to screw that up. And then, we came to the end of the road, looked left, looked right and couldn’t see anymore of the green glow sticks. We kind of just wandered around looking for them and then Rui told me to wait while he ran back the way we had come. I just stood in the dark and waited for what seemed a very long time……..”Come back!” I ran so hard back up that hill to find him by a huge arrow on the ground and two yellow plates ushering us off the road to the left. “Better make that 13 minute miles I guess?” I said to Rui. We both laughed our heads off and got moving.

We ran everything, yes everything all the way in. He pushed me home taking two more spots up the last big climb along the way. We weaved around single track the last half mile as hard as possible and then turned a last corner to see the red neon ‘finish line’ sign crossing it in 19 hours 37 minutes. A new 100 PR for me by almost 3 hours. Yes, a different course, temperature, terrain, I know all of that. What I was most happy with was to nail sub-20 without having that as my focal point all day long and getting caught up in the numbers. The plan had worked and worked really well. I also just found out this week that I beat a horse! A few dropped out so I won’t count those guys but I beat a horse on my own two feet!

19h 37 minutes, job done. Thanks to everyone in this picture a thousand times over. #VT1002014 Photo credit:  Heidi Tanakatsubo

19h 37 minutes, job done. Thanks to everyone in this picture a thousand times over. #VT1002014 Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

At the awards with Jimmy Deen Freeman (3 down, 3 to go for him, amazing!)

At the awards with Jimmy Dean Freeman (3 down, 3 to go for him, amazing!)

Work in Review and Looking Ahead

I asked myself at mile 99, could I keep running if I had to (thinking ahead to Tahoe 200) and I’m pleased to say with confidence, the answer was most definitely yes. I wanted to finish the race tired but not screaming for medical treatment and I achieved that fine line of effort perfectly. Overall, I was very satisfied with the whole race. Tiffany, Francis and Rui were outstanding. Their support and care for me is impossible to repay but I’ll try my hardest too. I am forever grateful to them.

I know where I made mistakes but I also know where I made good decisions, solved problems and ran smart. I will use all of this information to my advantage in a few weeks time. Excited to go beyond the 100 mile mark and explore a new chapter in my ultra running journey. Thank you all for your love and support. Roll on Tahoe 200!

My third 100 mile buckle and bib for the archives. I can happily call VT100 a success.

My third 100 mile buckle and bib for the archives. I can happily call VT100 a success.

Marathon Mishaps at Bear Mountain

bear banner

The North Face Endurance Challenge – Bear Mountain, NY

For the fourth straight year, I decided to physically and mentally put myself through the rocks and roots of the Bear Mountain trails at The North Face Endurance Challenge. Being just up the road from my base camp of NYC, this race is hard to pass up. The event marks my anniversary into the world of ultrarunning (50K in 2011) although this time, I was back to try a new shorter distance than usual; the classic 26.2.

Getting to just run today came about thanks to the flexibility of The North Face staff, notably Susie and Karen. My original reason for being at Bear this year was to volunteer but when the runner in me figured out I could squeeze a marathon in between two volunteer shifts, I shouted “sign me up!” and a long day ahead was put on the calendar.

May 3rd – Race Day

I arrived at the very misleading grassy fields of Bear Mountain at 3:30am with Rui. He was about to undergo his first ever 50 miler and was definitely one of the first to arrive. My schedule for the day was; 3:30-8:30am registration tent, 9am-1pm?? marathon and 1:45-7:30pm registration/t-shirt printing. Arguably, this was an ultramarathon day for both of us, just that my GPS device would be unable to back me up on this one.

I was introduced to Nick in charge of registration. With a sea of laptops out and ready, the job at hand at first seemed a little overwhelming for so early in the morning. I watched as he checked in the first 50 miler runner and took a mental note of what had to be done.

As soon as the next runner came by, it was my turn. The key to my  job was to basically not hand out a bib and plug it in the system as something different. If the shirt or socks I handed out were the wrong size, I could live with that but the bib being wrong would have killed me! Luckily, I had a cup of coffee at my side and after not messing up the first guy, I got on a roll and like clockwork, I became a veteran at registering runners in and wishing them good luck!

After the 50 milers left at 5am, the 50K runners slowly emerged and a new wave of registration begun and then once more for the marathon runners. Marathon runners! That was my race. It was time to shut up shop and get ready for my race.

pink bib

Pink bib for real trail runners!

I had eaten my breakfast albeit nothing that great (a dry half of bagel, Nature Valley granola bar and a banana) at 7am but hadn’t paid as close attention as I would have liked to with my blood tests. Working a new gig and it being so early, I wasn’t as focused as normal going into a race. By the time I was scrambling to get ready for my race, I had begun my day of what would be many mishaps; mishap #1 – lack of constant blood glucose monitoring pre-race.

My glucose ten minutes prior to the start was far higher than I wanted. I knew I wouldn’t be needing any glucose intake until at least the second aid station (mile 9) but still carried three gels in my shorts for safe keeping.

In unison with not testing my blood frequently throughout my busy morning, I had barely drunk any water. Counting two cups of coffee did not count. I probably had one bottle of water in six hours. And that was just pre-race. To think not carrying a hand-held would save me time would in fact do the opposite when I would start to get dehydrated later on; mishap #2 – lack of hydration.

With five minutes to go I was just about ready. I had decided to go with compression socks over no-show socks. My theory lay with all the mud and slush expected out on the course. With a higher sock line, the risk of debris flying into my shoe would be reduced. That’s all I had, so I went with it!

Catching up with Kirk,  pre-race

Catching up with another T1D, Kirk Noreen pre-race.

I met up with De’Vang and Ruth at the start area, friends from different NYC clubs and my T1 buddy Kirk who I’ve not seen in a couple of years. As the horn sounded, I sped across the grass field heading for the underpass; the gateway to the trails where the adventures awaited. Within the first 400 meters, my feet were soaked in ankle-deep muddy water as I ran straight through the huge puddles splashing whoever was in close proximity. This puddle was really just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone knew the course was technically tough but the water and mud were extra star guest appearances for today’s race.

A couple of guys jockeyed hard to control first spot and I left them to it sitting content in third. Remembering my coaches words “run within yourself” I tossed my competitive ego aside and let runner after runner pass me by as we climbed up for the trail for the first three miles.

Not your typical marathon elevation profile!

Not your typical marathon elevation profile!

As much as I let them runners go ahead, I consciously counted my placing as I was adamant that the majority of these runners would come back to me later in the race. De’Vang joined me by my side and another runner called John. We ran together, conversing energy on steep ups with power hiking and running the rest. We had no intention of splitting up and rolled into the first aid station (Anthony Wayne) together tied for 11th.

Mile 4; chatting with De'Vang and John in close proximity.

Mile 4; chatting with De’Vang and John coming into Anthony Wayne.

I grabbed a couple of cups of fresh H2O and swiftly kept going along the road to the next section of trail. I checked my watch to see it took less than 30 minutes to get here. This meant we were ahead of course record pace. This was not a good thing! I told the guys the news although we didn’t really do anything about it. Inevitably, the trail did it for us.

From mile 5, we climbed up and up, some on trail, some on road and were joined by one more runner, Brandon. He wasn’t your typical looking trail runner; covered in tattoos, sporting tri shorts, but then again, is there even such a thing as your ‘typical trail runner’?

Brandon was a top guy. This was his first trail race jumping across from the tri scene to get his feet wet. Well, we were all doing a good job of that today. Every mile or so, a puddle emerged that was so long or wide, the effort to try to stay dry was just not worth it. Plus ploughing straight through them is always more fun! The blister risk was going to be high today but we wouldn’t find out the results until we were done hours later. I put my faith in my CEP socks and Brooks Pure Grit and got on with the task at hand.

I ended up letting the three of them go ahead. John was the nearest to me but De’Vang and Brandon felt good enough to push on harder and actually caught the next group ahead by doing so. I took a gel from my pocket as I felt this may have been the cause of why I was letting them go ahead. At the summit, I ran over a section of large flat rocks (very common in this state park) and looked down the other side at the steep descent to come. Low and behold, everyone was there delicately scrambling down the rock face. I used my downhill skills to catch back up with a few of them and get back in the mix on the fringe of the top 10.

mile 8.5

Mile 9 at Bear ; the obstacle course on water!

As we headed around Silvermine Lake to the mile 9 aid, for no apparent reason, my left contact lens begun to act up. At some angles, my vision was OK, but for the most part, my view was just a blur. At the aid station, I made a B-line for the nearest car mirror; mishap #3 contact lens malfunction. 

Before the volunteers could tell me I was going the wrong way, they figured out what I was doing. Keila was cheering everyone on with Michelle Mason and came over to investigate. She grabbed some water and poured it into my cupped hand with the lens waiting to get cleaned up. I put it back in but my nothing had improved.

Ironically, the mirror belonging to the car was an EMT vehicle! I didn’t even notice (hard to with one eye working!). The EMT guy was scrambling for saline trying to be of assistance, probably more used to twisted ankles than failing contact lenses. He finally came to my rescue and showed me a small plastic tube of the stuff which I snatched and intuitively bit off the plastic seal to his hygienic horror. I forgot, this wasn’t really “my” saline as such. Nothing a few wet wipes wouldn’t clean up though right? I dosed the lens in saline and tried again. It was slightly better but nothing like normal.  I had been hanging around for a couple of minutes now and my pack of runners had this time most definitely fled. I decided ‘good enough’ and got back on the trail.

I chased down two runners splashing my way through more deep puddles of mud not wasting any time with the dry feet route. They had made the most of my blurry pit stop but finally I re-took my position. By mile 11 I was ultimately out there alone chasing a pack of five or six that I could not now unfortunately see, even through a stretch of flat(ish!) trail through the trees.

The highest point of the course was halfway but first I had to get there which required a fairly grueling power hike. I rejoined John again and we worked together up it. At the peak, my watch showed me 2:05, a sub-4 time goal I had set myself now seemed dubious. The fact I was behind on time was the least of my worries though. My left eye was showing me double and triple rocks! Planting my feet in the right safety spots had become a tougher challenge than normal out here.

Once at the high point, I got to run along a relatively flat section. A fallen tree made for a natural hurdle and as I took off, I immediately felt a sharp twinge in my left sartoris muscle (the muscle that wraps from the hip over the quads into the medial knee point). Mishap #4 cramping. This was not a good omen for the 13 more miles that remained. A first cramp is never a last for me. I only had one choice; to back off the pace to try to tame the pain away.

Another tree obstacle appeared down the trail and though I climbed over it with slightly less aggression, now the other leg gave out. Sartoris left and right were forcing me to deal with some serious pain management skills. Chasing the pack had now become a distant goal. Trying to see, stop cramping and getting some fluids inside me jumped up the hierarchy fairly quickly.

Not carrying S-caps or a hand-held to sip on fluid was proving to be a disaster. A rookie move. I had justified to myself that this was just a marathon and I would be fine without both and quicker on my feet if I wasn’t handling a hydration bottle. But a 4-5 hour run is the equivalent of a fast 50K for me and in that race distance, I would never think twice about carrying fluids. It’s just what you should do.

Running within myself now meant trying to avoid cramps. Even so, I still managed to pull some people back. I passed by one guy who told me “you’re now in 9th” to which I replied “no way!” Then a few hundred yards later, I passed a back of the pack 50Ker who declared “Wow, you’re in 5th”. I felt like the next person was going to say I had won an all-inclusive Caribbean cruise for four people. I had to ignore the noise around me and focus on the basics; running.

That was harder said then done. My cramping was spreading like a bad disease and now it had started, it would be hard, almost impossible to stop. Occasionally I just had to pull up and wait out the pain. Standing still while I cramped up took me back to my first 50 miler at JFK where I had the same situation. But this was happening, three years later! If you don’t cramp, let me just say you are lucky. The pain of cramping is unbearable. And then when it happens during a race knowing you have to run X miles just twists the knife in that bit more.

Marathon Course. Flat on paper!

Marathon Course. Flat on paper!

I reached a fairly unique looking aid station at 18 – Owl Lake. The set up was the back of a pick-up truck with various cups laid out! Craving some food I looked around at the offerings but only saw water and what appeared to be orange juice. I grabbed a cup and took a big swig immediately spitting it out onto the floor. Not orange juice. Then my eyes (yes, even the blurry one) spied a half-finished bottle of Coke at the front of the truck. I asked the volunteer for the Coke which he somewhat reluctantly fetched. Pouring me a cup, I downed it and reached out for more in true Oliver Twist fashion. A female runner next to me liked the look of the Coke and so she grabbed the last cup. I’m pretty sure the Coke was not meant for us but it did me the world of good! While a few tired runners from the 50K and marathon lingered at the pickup truck, I got out of there ASAP and knew I had jumped a couple of spots in the process. At a wild guess, I sat in 13th.

More climbing, more descending, the course unsurprisingly was relentless. My feet were dry and then soaked, it was described later by someone as the hardest Tough Mudder they had ever done! After a fairly standard section of trail, I felt a small stone playing around in my right shoe. I curled my foot inside my shoe to try to relocate it to a less annoying spot but it ended up going under my mid-foot which made it worse! I checked my mileage and pulled up by a branch to use as a step. I had 8 miles to go and knew the right thing to do was to just remove it. Mishap #5 foreign object in my shoe. That is the golden rule of objects in your shoes other than your feet. Take them out before they cause more problems than they are worth.

Reaching for my shoe was harder said than done however. My legs was so tight, my hamstrings immediately cramped up. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place (pun intended). I had to just keep going to take the shoe off which intensified the cramping. I eventually just yanked off the shoe. The foreign object fell out of my shoe easily enough but my laces were double knotted and tied as tight as you could imagine. I picked at the knot for minutes and watched one, two and then three runners go by. Mishap #6; laces in a knot. The unfortunate luck I was having was almost comical.

I eventually released the laces and put my shoe back on – if not for a little more cramping. I slowly caught up and passed two of the runners that had whizzed passed me as I dealt with mishaps 5 and 6. I got to Anthony Wayne aid station and didn’t spend a great deal of time there as I noticed the final runner who passed me was loitering at the food table looking pretty beat.

Anthony Wayne aid meant this was now the last aid station for me, 4 miles left. That’s what I hoped at least. I turned a sharp left rather than my usual route through the car park (the 50K/50M route) but hesitated for confirmation from someone. Keila was again close enough by to give me the nod that I was correct and said I was Top 10 or close to it.

I was literally going back the way I had come in the morning, the now barren course marked with all the distinctive ribbon colors labeled for each race distance. If I was just going back the way I had come, I knew the majority of the course was going to be downhill.

But after a mile of climbing up and following these ribbons I stopped and looked around. No one was around, there were only the sounds of birds, rummaging squirrels and me. I declared to myself that I had to be lost! My mind started to spin. I began to think that when I finally made it back to the world of civilization, I would figure out my mistake but it would be too late. I would have my first ever DNF because I went the wrong way. I already knew that turning back four miles and then running another four the correct route would have put my mileage super high for the day and that was definitely not going to be good long-term. The mind does some crazy things when tired!

Over a small ridge line, a runner wearing a red bib ran by below. Red bibs were 50 milers. This now made less sense than before when I had not seen or heard anyone! My trail merged with his and I followed him up and away from the direction I thought I was meant to be going towards the finish.

Before long, a marker cleared my head and had pink and red arrows pointing in the direction I was going. Analyzing the speed and freshness of the runner ahead, it clicked that this was a relay runner. They run 6.2 miles each. This must be right and I must be close to the end!

My body was over it. I hoped I was Top 10 more than I believed it. With so much stop and start running, keeping track of my position today had become no simple task. I descended downhill on less rocky terrain picking up much more speed than what most of the course allowed up to this point. Already going through my mistakes and bad luck, I begun to daydream about what my coach would make of my first trail race of the season. At least I didn’t…THUD!

And there I lay looking up to the sky with tall trees lining my view all around. My first fall of the day. The palms of my hands and back of my arms took the brunt of it. I brushed myself off and got up wearily. Mishap? Nah, this is part of the deal with trails. If you switch your mind off on a technical course, the inevitable is going to happen.

I kept going but through pure exhaustion just started to break down out there emotionally, thinking a lot about my late uncle. I think about him daily but rarely get to the point where I lose control. I guess the cocktail of almost five hours out on a rugged and wet Bear Mountain race course will do that to you, especially when it’s just not your day. I wanted more from this race but it wasn’t to be my day.

The descent finally took me towards a road that I knew well from training runs. Those last few miles just run were definitely new to me which explained why I thought I was lost and why I was confused to see a 50 miler runner who turned out to be a relay runner. Funny how these things all work out and no more talk of DNF’s! I am too proud of my clean record for that to become a reality anyway.

Passing by a couple of relay runners late into the race.

Passing by a couple of relay runners late into the race.

But getting on the familiar road, I thought I was home and dry. I was neither. The markings took us back into the trail via some wooden steps that acted like a champagne fountain with the liquid flowing down to the next level below. If this was champagne, trust me, it would have been very enjoyable but this was a brutal set of steps to get up with water flowing around my feet. Not only that, I now had a runner tearing down the descent behind me on some serious mission.

Convinced it was a late attack on me, I shrugged as my body physically and mind emotionally had shut down from competing for the day. When he passed, he tapped my arm and encouraged me as if we knew each other. That’s why I love trail running. He spurred me into a running motion and I wanted to try to keep that going through to the end. In fact, he was a relay runner for November Project, a likely mutual friend of NYRR’s Paul Leak who I know is linked to the team.

The trail became heavily clad with bushes tight either side scratching on my legs and then it opened up into a far more familiar rocky trail. Now, without doubt, I sensed the end was near. But my recent encounter with the runner who spurred me on was lying ahead on the trail motionless. I ran up to him and checked in. He said he had fallen because of cramping but it looked more than that to me. He looked pretty banged up.

“Go finish your race” he yelled at me. I didn’t really have time to go into how this was more of a mental training day for me than a race anymore but once  I was sure he was fine, I carried on going. Of course, within two minutes he grunted past me again back at it and giving it everything. His grit was pretty awesome.

Last push for home.

Mile 26; Last puddle and push for home.

Under the bridge and getting my feet soaked one final time, the end was all but in sight. And as predicted, my gritty relay runner was friends with Paul. Paul and myself high-fived as I was finishing and he was beginning on his journey. Pretty sweet to have so many awesome friends into the same crazy stuff as you.

Done! A mental triumph if nothing else to claim 11th spot.

Done! A mental triumph if nothing else to claim 11th spot.

4:42 was good enough for 11th and third in my age group. It didn’t match up close to my pre-race expectations. I also never envisioned so many mishaps to have to work through out there. And after a quick break mingling with the likes of Dylan Bowman and Jordan McDougal, it was back to work for me, printing t-shirts for the runners for the rest of the day!

De'Vang ran a great trail race to claim 7th. If he hadn't have gotten lost. maybe a top 5 spot.

De’Vang ran a great trail race to claim 7th. If he hadn’t gotten lost, maybe a top 5 spot.

Jumping Shenanigans with the instigator (Elaine) and De'Vang who ran a great race for 7th.

Jumping shenanigans with NYC buddies; Elaine “instigator” Acousta and De’Vang

Post-race “Debrief”

Being on my feet all day for 16 hours was definitely one of my longer marathon experiences ever but getting to spend all that time among like-minded individuals who push themselves to the limit and then find another level is so great to be around. It was a great first trail test for the year at Bear. Now to learn from my mistakes and move forward.

Part of me regrets putting the bar so high as most of the time, this will ultimately lead to perceived failure. The other part of me tells me, that’s just who I am. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you’ll land among the stars” is how my buddy Jeff Le described it to me days later. I like that he said that. He basically told me to not change my hunger and to keep setting the bar where I want to set it because that’s just me.

For Others; Pacing the NYC Marathon

April 2004, London; I lined up behind the 3:15 pacer at my first marathon believing I had done all the right things in my training only to fall well short of my goal time, crawling home to a 3:48 after having a pretty bad hypo experience at mile 21. That pacer disappeared from sight at mile 15 in and I had no idea how anyone could run so well, stay on pace and carry a sign. The marathon humbled me. I went so far as to take a break from racing for a few years.

London Marathon 04 with my Sis.

The archives; Post-London Marathon 04 with my Sis.

November 2013, NYC; I lined up as the 3:15 pacer at my umpteenth marathon. Ten years on, I have become a runner that I didn’t think was possible. I was lucky enough to be selected by the New York Road Runners (NYRR) as one of the official pacers for this year’s much missed New York marathon (after the cancellation last year following Hurricane Sandy). I was happy to be allocated the 3:15 time. An average pace of 7:26 per mile would be needed. As much as I run these days, this was to be my first official pacing gig. I felt honor and pressure. I had a horrible image of quitting in the Bronx and getting on the subway with my pacer shirt and orange balloons saying 3:15. I say this only because two weeks prior, I was hobbling around the streets of Brooklyn with my family with inflammation in my right heel. With rest and icing, it healed just in time for arguably the best day of the year.

My love affair with the New York Marathon started in 2007. Since watching my own country’s, Paula Radcliffe win the race, I got inspiration I needed to run another marathon. It could only be New York. I took the plunge the following week and went to Nike Run Club (I had heard about it for over a year but stubbornly not wanted to run in a group). It proved to be a huge turning point in my life both in terms of running and friendships. Those few days really kick started the second chapter of running in my life.

But my next marathon would have to wait a while longer.  Knee surgery forced me to defer my New York bib a year. So I ran the 2009 race instead and took a 47 minute chunk of time off my first attempt. It put some demons to bed, that’s for sure.  For those that know me, the journey has anything but slowed down from there.

Working the booth with Tommy.

Tommy and me working the booth at the expo. Photo credit: Elaine Acousta

My pacing duties actually began well before standing at the start line.  On Saturday morning, I worked at the Pace Team booth. The people and questions came thick, fast and sometimes very personal; “What is the pace team?”, “How much does it cost?”, “I pee a lot while running. Should I try to break 4 or just settle for 4:15?” Yes, I got to meet all sorts. It was quite an experience. It really made me realize a) people do really come from all over the world for this race (most came back from last year’s cancellation from as far as Sydney!) b) they do really rely on the pacers to help them achieve their goals.

Looking back to Manhattan while crossing the Verrazano.

Looking back to Manhattan while crossing the Verrazano.

Race (pace) day begun in Times Square at 6am. Our NYRR contact, Paul Leak directed me onto the correct bus. He had promised me Pamela Anderson (she was running it) on the bus and all the other VIP’s. Paul had let me down, it was just the pacers! We drove through Brooklyn watching the sunrise over our great city and then over the Verrazano bridge to the start village in Staten Island.  Getting into the village was a tough task. It was the first real reminder of the day how big this race had become. Over 50,000 would run making it the largest marathon in history! Paul handed us our goal pace signs, which somehow worked like VIP passes to get into the village. The security was super tight. I didn’t appreciate getting a metal detector run over me (twice) but respected the need for solid policing. The world was watching after all.

Security overseeing runners head into the start village

Security overseeing runners head into the start village

People asked me what perks we got as pacers. Well the heated tent with a breakfast spread was a nice touch, I will say. Unfortunately, for pacers like me in the wave 1 start, we didn’t have much time to enjoy this. I always like to eat two hours prior to a race and was now already inside this window. My BG was a bit high at 198 but I wanted to be there at the start of the race so I calculated my carb intake needs and took off a unit of insulin to make sure I would stay in that range. The tricky part with my diabetes was having to be in my assigned corral early. That meant doing my last blood test with about an hour and a half before the start. I decided to take a bottle of Gatorade with me as a safety precaution along with my pacer sign and giant meeting point sign.

Pre-race with Keila and Jackie. It was cold I swear!

Pre-race with Keila and Jackie. It was cold I swear! Photo credit: Jackie Choi

I dragged my stuff around the village trying to dump my bag in the green village (green bib) and then figure out where the blue corral was as this was my assigned start corral. Immediately, everyone around me thought I knew everything about anything. “Where is the green corral?” and “Should I use the bathroom now or wait until the corral?” People seem to like talking about toilet needs to me for some reason.

As I approached the entrance to the corral a man approached me and said “Oh great. You’re here. They have been asking about you”. Did ‘they’ think I was Pamela Anderson? It all felt a bit strange. Everyone stared at me as soon as I entered the corral. I waved my sign at them as an ice breaker and everyone just stared back. I think looking back they were all thinking ‘Is he really going to run with that giant sign the whole way?’. The answer was no, although when a big burly French guy actually asked me that question I said “No, you are and while you’re at it, you can shield us all from the wind to please!” The temperatures were perfect but the wind would not be. Up to 20 mph headwinds would be a big problem for the runners today. Luckily, for any of them savvy enough, I would be the one battling the wind without choice. I predicted that my effort would make it feel more like a 3:10 than a 3:15.

While hanging around for the start, the big two questions were “Are you running in kilometers?” and “Are you running even pace?” I politely told them I last ran in kilometers in school cross-country and no, I would not be running even pace. I had printed off a wristband with mile splits that took into account the hills of the course and would therefore run even effort. That meant the first mile would be about 8-minute pace and the second, 7-minute pace purely because it was over the bridge. After that, the pace would settle to 7:20-25’s for a while through Brooklyn and Queens.

The gun fired, Frank sung ‘New York, New York’ over the sound system and we clambered over people’s throwaway clothes (that they had clearly done a bad job of actually throwing away) towards the start line. Here we go. The goal was to run as close to 3:15:00 as possible without any crazy sprints or slowing down shenanigans. I felt the pressure as I had a sea of people swarming around me putting all of their faith in me.

The famous start over the Verrazano Bridge.

The famous start over the Verrazano Bridge. Can anyone spot Thunder?!

Among the 50,000, I quickly saw friends. Steve “Thunder” Lee was posing for a photo on the middle divide of the bridge wearing his Superman costume and then Angela from Nike Run Club. She told everyone they were in good hands. I appreciated the compliment as I’m sure their were some doubters in the group.

An NYPD helicopter hovered at bridge height to our left, a stark reminder of how tightly watched this race was going to be. At the highest point of the race was mile 1. I hit the pace almost perfectly. The descent would be fast and I did my best to keep it at 7 minute pace. Some runners went ahead and kept checking over their shoulder to see me. I didn’t have to say anything for them to know they needed to back off slightly.

The 3:15 group going over the Verrazano Bridge.

The 3:15 group going over the Verrazano Bridge.

During the entry into our second borough (Brooklyn), all three colored corral starts split and rejoined a mile or so later. I was looking for my other 3:15 pacer, Andrew, who begun in the green corral on the lower level of the Verrazano. On 4th Avenue, crowds were growing and so were the runners. At 3.5 miles in, all corrals were now as one. I spotted a sign ahead which looked like Andrew’s 3:15. I just had to pray it wasn’t 3:10 as I closed the gap. It was him.

Green, orange and blue routes separate briefly after the Verrazano Bridge.

Green, orange and blue routes separate briefly after the Verrazano Bridge.

The real-time pacing was going well but my GPS version was not. Either I was submerged with too many of them (GPS watches) or buildings were throwing off the data. My average mile was saying 7:10 when I knew we were doing 7:25’s. I knew because I kept checking elapsed time at mile markers. I was basically running pre-GPS watch era.

Some concerned runners wondered why two 3:15 signs were spread apart. I simply told them, we started in different corrals. We were slightly behind goal pace and he was probably slightly ahead. I phrased it that if they ran in the space between us, they would be ‘on the money’. I think that was all the reassurance they needed to hear. We did however have 20 more miles to go which would have been my greater concern as a runner of the race.

By the clock tower building in Brooklyn, myself and Andrew finally connected. We figured that I should be behind him due to starting at fractionally different times. I had felt some pressure from my group to catch him and I should never have let that be the case. I eased off slightly as we climbed the hill north on Lafayette Avenue where the crowds were and are always amazingly loud.

The reward was a long gradual downhill. Most of the faces I had seen on the Verrazano were still the same. We were all here, we were all running as one big group. I urged them to stay relaxed. The race did not begin until 1st Avenue and I hoped they trusted that fact.

Empty cups; I did not drink smart early in the race.

Empty cups; I did not drink smart early in the race.

As pacer, my aim was to run in the center of the road on both straights and turns. Going through the aid stations trying to grab liquid was therefore not too easy. After a couple of failed attempts, I found my glucose level dropping. I realized that I was simply not following my normal carbohydrate intake methods all because I was carrying a stick! What is the first rule of pacing? Look after yourself or you can not look after others. It was true.

I grabbed a gel from my shorts. Within half a mile, I grabbed a second one (which I rarely do). Luckily, my pacing remained as it should have even though the effort I had to exert went up a notch for a mile. A good save but I should have never have put myself in that situation.

Running through the Hasidic Jewish community is one of the quieter and strangest sections of the race. It’s a place where two separate worlds collide for a few hours as 50,000 people run through their neighborhood. I watched a runner try to high-five several men in a row and they all just stood there staring. But as is New York, all of a sudden, one block further ahead, we heard a DJ blaring some music.  We were entering the start of Williamsburg. Crowds roared again and you could feel the lift the runners got from the noise.

At 11 miles in, the pace was perfect. I was not afraid to let them know this either. I liked telling the group every mile or two if we were up or down and by how much. There were a few cheers when they heard we were exactly on pace.

At the Pulaski bridge, we clocked a halfway time of 1:37:40, ten seconds behind. My pace data on my watch was so off, I wanted to switch it off and just wear a normal watch. Gauging the 7:25’s off feel was not as easy after spending years relying on my ‘techy’ watch. “Ten seconds is nothing” I told them. “The crowds in Manhattan will shave off one minute of time for you without you having to do anything”. They liked hearing this as we looked over to our left and saw the amazing skyline of Manhattan. They knew the main part was to come.

But something in Queens didn’t go right. My pace kept dropping and my glucose was definitely OK (now). Two miles later, we completed the last turn before the long Queensboro bridge begun and I had lost more time. I was now 45 seconds behind. Andrew and his group had stayed close by me. We had since realized I should have been the one ahead of him and his green wave group. I was not happy with this and subconsciously pushed the bridge climb. At this point in the race, it was hard to keep track who were my runners from the start gun and who had jumped on for the ride. I intersected with more friends running their own race; Marisa Galloway and Tony Cheong notably. Tony looked like he was hurting some and didn’t seem too thrilled to see me. Then, my pacer light bulb went on. I was the guy no one in front wanted to see! The sweeper, if you will, for some of the fast folks with goals of 3:10 and faster. If they saw me, they were not having their day.

By the middle of the bridge, all you get is an eerie noise of feet on road and breathing, nothing more. As pacer, I felt pressure to say something but I waited and waited and then when we descended over and into Manhattan and the roar of noise slowly began. As the crowds came into sight I declared “Party time!”. The contradiction of  silence to the ‘wall of sound’ coming off the bridge is a special moment along the course. We turned under the arch of the bridge and then looked straight up 1st Avenue.

The view ahead was a sea of people on both sides of the street with signs, balloons and runners as far as the eye can see heading for the Bronx. I checked my watch. I was all of a sudden only a few seconds behind goal time. What had I done on that bridge? I certainly didn’t mean to close the time gap so quickly, especially over one of the toughest parts mentally and physically of the course. I was not proud of myself. I had broken my rule of no dramatic shifts of speed.

The masses along 1st Avenue

The masses along 1st Avenue

A mile up 1st Avenue, I saw my friends lining the left side. There were lots of them but I only managed to lock eyes with Francis and Tiffany before I moved back to the center of the road. The first signs of fatigue were now evident. My group of runners seemed fine, no complaints from anyone at least, but ahead, runners were walking, holding hamstrings or going a fraction of the speed they were probably going in the first three boroughs. The marathon wall in New York for some reason seems to come earlier than other races. The course is just tough, no two ways about it.

Working 1st Avenue. Photo courtesy; Reiko Cyr.

Working as one up 1st Avenue. Photo credit; Reiko Cyr.

Through the gel zone, I grabbed as many as I could. I learned this tip from my veteran pacer friend Otto Lam. As soon as we were through, I turned to offer the gels to anyone that didn’t get one. In doing so, I saw the amount of runners working hard to keep pace with me. It was an awesome sight to an extent but it really added to the mounting pressure that I had to nail this time goal.

The last mile of 1st Avenue sucks. I didn’t try to pretend otherwise to the runners either. I said “This section of the course gets really quiet but in one mile we will be in the Bronx and the it will be loud all the way home. I promise. For now, just focus on this mile”. I felt the need to say something as I heard the breathing getting louder as the crowd fizzled out. With silence can come doubt and at mile 18, this is a high drop out zone of the course. You need to tell yourself that you can do it. As long as you’ve done the training, it’s basically a mental game not a physical one from here on in. I carried my pacer sign as high as I could so they would always have a visual. In hindsight, I could have probably carried it a bit lower as you know what you’re looking for after 18 miles of running. To me, it just felt like my way of helping as much as possible.

“Up a short climb over the Willis Avenue bridge and we will be in the Bronx”. My memory had left out the long second climb before we actually got off the bridge. I regretted using the words ‘short climb’ but still no one was heckling me. I had balanced out the pacing up 1st Avenue and we were now at a really nice ten seconds under goal pace.  Some of the crowds here in the Bronx were big but not as loud as they could have been. I turned to my trusty pacer stick and used it to pick the crowd up. It worked immediately. I guess they were getting bored with watching all these serious runners so I started having fun with the crowds and it worked. The runners appreciated it. It was a win-win move.

Bronx bunching; Mile 21. Photo credit: Oh Snapper.

Bronx bunching at Mile 21. Photo credit: Oh Snapper.

My Danish running friends (who I had met at the expo) were running strong. They asked if the bridge ahead was the last one. It was. Madison Avenue bridge back into Manhattan and then five miles left. I found the question an interesting perspective from another runner. As I had been mentally counting hills to go, they had been counting the bridges as a way to break up the race. My concern for the group was the 5th Avenue hill still to come; a mile long up before entering Central Park.

Off Madison bridge, we turned left turn down 5th Avenue greeted by none other than Michael Jackson’s Thriller (They’ve played this song here every year for some time now). “If anyone hanging with the group has anything left, now is the time to go” I said. Most of them laughed/cried and said “We are trying to hang on!” OK, good to know. It really was impossible to tell if any of them had broken away, fallen off the back or I had gathered up some new runners along the way. I’m sure it was a combination of all three. Anyone we now passed in dire straits got a tap from me and words of encouragement. I referenced Dusty Olson’s words “Dig deep” that he used pacing Scott Jurek during his ultrarunning hey days.  I didn’t like to see people walking and know these two simple words can be very powerful.

We had four miles of temporary pain left together. I wanted everyone we passed to jump on the 3:15 bus. We hit 110th Street which meant the beginning of the 5th Avenue climb. “Time to do work” I said. “Hang on guys”. This hill is truly something. I think I’m accurate in saying we can all blame the legend of Fred Lebow for the placement of this one mile hill so late in the race. I wanted to tell them they were halfway but stopped myself when I read the street sign ’96th St.’. Wow, I guess I was hurting too. Andrew, was still by my side. I was now a comfortable 30 seconds ahead of the goal time. I wanted to hit 3:15:00 but feared the one second over scenario so much I didn’t want to risk being that close. I know it would have haunted me and I would have viewed my job as a failure so I aimed for a 15 second window.

Grinding at Mile 22. Photo credit: @raysphotos (Instagram)

3:15 group grinding at mile 22. Photo credit: @raysphotos (Instagram)

With two blocks of the hill left, we were close enough “Come on. Almost in the park and then no more hills” I shouted. That wasn’t’ quite true but no more hills like that. It was a close enough statement to say to fatigued runners who were probably not even listening to me anymore.

Central Park looked nothing like usual as is always the case during the marathon. A sea of people lined the left side of the route as we weaves around the MET museum. A small climb towards Cat Hill made teeth clench. I gave a heads up that a nice downhill would be the reward.

Two runners glued themselves to my sides. Down to the edge of the park, a large crowd awaited us. Just like the Bronx, I asked for noise for the runners and received it in full force. As I glanced up and saw a ‘800 meters to go’ sign, I knew I was OK, comfortably under 3:15. We turned back into the park at Columbus Circle. I pointed out to the lead singer of the band playing and he pointed right back at me, both smiling like a couple of Cheshire cats from Alice in Wonderland. Boy, we were basically in Wonderland, this was awesome.

I grabbed some high fives from runners as we climbed the last 0.2 up the teaser of a finish. I slowed a little to make sure runners just behind knew if they could catch me, they were under the 3:15 time. I crossed the line at 3:14:44 just as happy as if this was my own race.

Home stretch; I finally had time to relax and enjoy the finish!

Home stretch; I finally had time to relax and enjoy the finish!

I found Andrew at the finish and we congratulated each other among many of the other runners we had paced. We collected our medals, foil blankets and some food as we walked north through the park to reclaim our bags. When, I finally got my stuff, I grabbed my glucose meter. I was 82. Time for food, anything but gels!

The amazing finish area in Central Park.

The amazing finish area in Central Park.

The whole race was truly about other people. From 50,000 runners to over two million spectators, the NYRR, the police. But it was even more than that. It was for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, the people of Boston and for everyone gunning for sub 3:15 around me whether they made it or not. It seemed truly fitting that this race was not about me, I was just a small part that was very happy to help. Thank you Brian Hsia, John Honerkamp and Paul Leak at NYRR for selecting and trusting me as a pacer. It is one of my best running experiences I’ve ever had.

NYCM 2013

NYCM 2013 medals

 

 

 

 

Paine to “Pain” Trail Half Marathon

Just one week after a tough (almost PR) Chicago marathon, I chose to..well, race again! My good running friend, Gary Berard, told me about a popular trail race a stones throw north of NYC which intrigued me. The race: Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon. Runner’s World Magazine describes it as “…a giant single loop that winds its way through the woods and trails of several lower Westchester communities“.

I, of course had no need to race so soon post-Chicago. My next ‘race’, the JFK 50 was seven weeks away in mid-November and my training plan for that consisted of little more than easy miles. But the idea of a trail run only 30 minutes by car from home, made it so easy! I signed up with good intentions of treating it like a 13.1 easy run, just with a race bib on and 1,000 friends. The day before, my type A personality was fully restored and I declared to Gary I was going to race it. Team Type 1’s Matt Patrick also sewed a seed in my head texting me in the week that I could win it! (This is his home turf so he knows the course better than most).

On October 14th, we were picked up by Gary’s friend, Geoff Badner who was also using the race as a training run for the Brooklyn Marathon (the same weekend as JFK). Gary unfortunately went from runner to spectator with a bad back mid-week. I tried to convince him, it was because he was now married and just getting old but he didn’t buy it. He even went to the chiropractor to confirm he should not run. Tough luck for him, but hats off for still making the road trip and cheering on Geoff and myself, early on a Sunday.

We picked up our race numbers by the start in New Rochelle and checked out the competition. Anyone in skimpy shorts or lightweight shoes or a combination of both meant competition! I was feeling mentally strong and had decided the goal was to try to make top 10, anything better, a bonus. My blood glucose read 190mg/dL just prior to the start. Absolutely perfect, I could not be happier with that.I toed the line and a rifle was fired. We all charged up a gradual hill for over 3/4 mile and I quickly found myself in 3rd place. My first mile split was 6:13! Slightly keen maybe?!

Asphalt road soon got replaced for the good stuff: single track trail with rocks, roots and a few small bridges mixed in too. I sat behind the lead two feeling pretty good. I lost ground on them going uphill but gained when going down. Then, I got impatient on a downhill and decided I wanted the lead, so I took it.

Appropriate sign up some of the inclines during miles 2-5

Here I was, in th lead of a half-marathon with 11 miles to go, just a week after a marathon! What was I thinking? Well, I was hoping everyone else’s heart rate were as high as mine to start with! As quickly as the idea of a nice W got in my head, it quickly got booted out again as the front two passed me. More followed. I got put in my place (10th to be exact) and had to readjust my winning goal back to my original. It was fun for a few hundred yards at least. I knew I had to back off. My heart rate was probably 175. I wish I had worn my monitor to see how high it really did get. I needed to bring this down or I would be toast well before this was over.

Mile 7 @Paine to PAIN Trail Half Marathon

We continued on single track for a few miles occasionally crossing a quiet road and then entering more magical forest to explore. I was about 13th or 14th at 6 miles as the hardest part of the course was now behind us. The rocks and tree roots with up and down climbing was now replaced with flatter and wider runnable trail. Each mile for me however was getting slower and slower. Sub-7 miles were now 7:20….7:30 and then I hit my lowest and slowest moment at mile 7: 8:07. I took a Honey Stinger gel thinking maybe their was more to it than just fatigue, maybe my blood glucose was dropping towards a hypoglycemia level? Whatever it was or wasn’t,  I was now heavily regretting my heroic performance at the start!

Then I heard more footsteps gradually closing in on me  I didn’t turn around, i knew I would see whoever it was in a matter of seconds anyway. It was the first female. She passed and said “Hey” in a surprised tone. I responded the same adding even more emphasis on the surprise in my voice. It was my friend Deanna Culbreath, a fellow Brooks ID runner!

We both really had no idea either of us were running this. She said for us to run together (which would have been awesome) but my legs were toast and I had to go my own pace in this low moment. She ran ahead and took down the next guy soon after. She was getting cheered on by volunteers and spectators who acknowledged that she was the clear leader of the women’s race. It was awesome to witness.

Mile 9: thank you second wind!

Every turn I expected to lose sight of her but I didn’t and the guy in front had managed to stay with her. Maybe seeing a familiar face lit a fire inside of me or maybe it was the guy ahead who did decide to stick with her that made me feel like I had more energy deep down somewhere. I remembered the famous words of Scott Jurek “Dig Deep” and did just that. It’s hard to say how or why I got out of that mess in the middle miles. All I know is, I was grateful Deanna was out there kicking my butt because I gave me a second wind. I managed to get my pace back to 7-min miles as we continued to circled around the big loop back towards New Rochelle.

At mile 10, I had regained two or three places, one of which was the guy who had tried to hang with Deanna, but I was clueless if I was 9th or 15th or somewhere in the middle. Keila ran this race in 2011 and had told me about the age group prizes. This was not just any prize, this was an engraved beer tankard! The tangible award made some more pain go away and this became my new race goal. Yes, a glass beer tankard made me run competitive! (although who was to say how many 30-39 year olds were ahead of me).

At mile 11, I had clawed my way back to rock star ultra athlete Deanna. We had actually been pushing each other for the last mile or so. Without ever really talking about it then or since, I think we both really enjoyed competing against each other out there on the trail. I felt good and decided to press on, convinced she would follow suit.

I really had got the wind back in my sails now and was clocking low 6’s for those last 3 miles. I saw Gary standing in the middle of the woods after a turn and he did what any good running coach does; give a runner information they can use to their advantage.  “Good job” or “almost there” wasn’t going to help me. His words? “1 mile to go, 10th place, next ahead is 40 seconds, 1/2 mile to the road and you finish on the athletic track”. 5 key pieces of information were passed onto me in 5 seconds. Super helpful and the best part was, we didn’t even discuss that before the race. I cannot wait to train with him for Boston 2013.

With this on board, I gunned it towards a road I couldn’t yet see. It felt longer than the half mile quoted but I’ll blame my dead legs, not Gary on that one. The road took me quickly into full view of the athletic track and I got a glance at the finish line. This got me pumped up. Not because it was almost over, because it is just like the finish of the famous Western States 100 in California!! (minus 86.9 miles..who’s counting right?).

Sprint finish: why not?! Thinking of my Uncle and my Dad

I turned a sharp right down onto the track to do the final 300 meters. The surface felt great after 12 or so miles of rocks and uneven trail terrain. I sprinted the last straight thinking of my family, who have had a rough year, to say the least with health news, and clocked in at 1:30. I was ecstatic to come in the top 10. I had hit my race goal.

Within a minute, a got to watch some Paine to Pain history as Deanna came roaring home to win the women’s field and smash the course record by over six minutes! A great achievement and a great outing for Brooks Running all round! Geoff followed shortly after in 1:34 which surprised me as I thought he was going to take it easy and use it as a ‘training run’. Look who’s talking I guess and watch out Brooklyn Marathoner’s!

It was a tough week for personal reasons between Chicago and Paine to Pain. Lots of emotions but this race helped me escape and enjoy my running!

We all hung around for the awards making new friends while watching others finish. Some of my best times are post-runs, talking to people. Oh and yes, I managed to sneak into 3rd place age group for 30-39 and get my now beloved glass tankard. All that Paine to Pain was worth it! All in all, a great trail half-marathon put on a few miles north of the NYC. For any New York runner looking outside of the NYRR bubble or just wanting to dabble into some trail running, may I strongly suggest Paine to Pain 2013?

My prize!!! 3rd place 30-39 male. Someone fill this thing with beer already!

 

 

 

Race Report: Leadville Trail 100 (Inbound)

Winfield – Twin Lakes (50 – 60.5)

Winfield aid station

With Rui by my side, we strolled out of Winfield. I was now wearing gators over my shoes as I was sick of wasting time, stopping to remove stones. I was digesting food on the road back to the trail section so it was a pretty slow start. Even so, I was excited to show Rui Hope Pass. He would be my witness to how tough this was! I had two concerns going on. My stomach wasn’t happy and climbing Hope from the south side was going to be a steeper grade and test me.

Winfield to Twin Lakes via Hope Pass at 12,600ft

The trail was a little congested with runners coming towards us making their way to Winfield. An unwritten rule is that whoever is in front has right of way,  so it got under my skin when some of these folks didn’t seem to care about this and made me wait for them to pass. It reminded me of the NYC subway system, a complete free for all with people getting on the train before allowing people to get off. When the terrain was flat or down, I ran, if it was uphill or slightly technical underfoot, I went back to walking.

All smiles towards Hope Pass climb with Rui

We reached the sharp left turn, the start of a 2.5 mile climb up approximately 2,400ft. Embedded rocks acted as steps and skinny trees acted as a handrail to propel me up the mountain. When these natural objects weren’t available, it was good old-fashioned steady relentless steps, the ‘no stopping’ rule again in full force.

Rui reminded me to drink water. I guess the altitude wasn’t making me believe I was sweating and therefore threw my brain off the necessity to hydrate. Also as we climbed, the temperature was dropping, another factor as to why I wasn’t dying of thirst. I had a sip or so every time he said it but it was not easy. Eating and/or drinking going up is tough. You’re trying to take down energy or fluids while your body is going up. Not a great combination.

About halfway up the climb, Rui pulled me to the side of the trail to eat. My glucose was in the low 200’s so we opted for some potato chips, carbs without the sugar. This was also the best food source to fight off nausea as well, so it had a double effect at 11,000ft. I took down two chips real slowly. I’m pretty adamant my face looked no different from when I was 7 years old refusing to eat my greens while my Nana told me how good they were for me! Rui was doing a good job playing Nana. He didn’t let up. He made me eat several more before allowing me to continue the climb.

As a big group came towards us up the climb, I was down to the last chip. We didn’t want to get stuck behind this group so we jumped back on the trail, onwards and very much upwards. The surrounding trees soon thinned out which meant we were close to the top (if you count a mile as close). We climbed a section where it was hands and feet stuff before getting onto the switchbacks to the top.

A few runners were sitting down with their patient pacers. I gave them a high-five or a tap on the leg to try to get them going but refused to focus too much on their agony, it could be me any minute if I let my brain think about. The climb was now really tough with the thin mountain air in full effect. Certain parts involved climbing on tippy toes. If you were to put your heel down, you would have fallen backwards. I was playing real life Snakes and Ladders and I refused to land on any snakes! Rui paced slightly ahead and we were in a groove rolling double sixes all the way up.

For the first time in the race, I felt rain. On went the rain jackets. I borrowed one from Francis only the day before. It was a thicker jacket than the one I planned to use. I wasn’t motivated to throw it on because of the rain though, this was just drizzle to a Brit. The reason lay in the temperature drop. It was significant and the winds were now swirling all around us.

Looking back from atop Hope Pass

We hit the top of Hope Pass. We looked back, we looked forward. Such incredible scenery. I instinctively grabbed a rock to keep as a memento.

Rui adjusted his jacket as the wind was kicking our asses all over the place. His brand new cap flew off his head and he could only watch it as it flew away. He thought it was cool rather than  getting annoyed at his misfortune.  I didn’t want to hang around to lose my hat so off I went descending the trail. I was pretty confident he would catch up!

Looking ahead atop Hope Pass. Hopeless aid just below and Twin Lakes in the distance

It was half a mile to Hopeless aid station. I had run further than ever in my life while climbing Hope Pass twice. A guy called Donny told me Thursday night “Don’t quit, you’re going to want to quit. Probably around mile 55”. Donny couldn’t have been more wrong.  Me and Rui were two big kids flying down this famous mountain without a care in the world. We startled a few runners ahead with our enthusiasm and energy. Should I have held back a little bit? Maybe but I wasn’t going to win this thing, I was here to enjoy the experience and I was most definitely doing that.

Hopeless aid station was full of runners refilling water bottles, getting hot soup or fixing their feet. We stopped and I did a blood test; 193. I took off my rain jacket and grabbed some water and a cup of soup.  I wanted to keep the descent going to bring the glucose down but Rui again held the reins on me and told me to eat before we continued. Besides, when would we next eat soup next to llamas again?! My stomach was already feeling  better than back at Winfield. My pacers persistent caloric intake was working, even though my brain was saying ” just run”.

Hopeless aid station. Tip of my woolly cap for those volunteers!

We thanked the volunteers and said our goodbyes. We had 3 miles of descending to do. Without doubt, this section was the most fun. Not too steep or too technical so we upped the pace all the way down making up some time from the outbound section, whizzing past cautious runners. As Rui was ahead I had a path to follow. If it looked good I followed, if he had to move his feet out of a tricky situation, I took a different route.

A section of single track expressway Rui and myself tore up…or down?!

What felt like sub-7 pace was actually 8:30’s. The average pace of last years winner Ryan Sandes was 10/min miles for the whole race so if I could just sort my climbing out I’ll one day start cashing checks for having this much fun! Here’s to dreaming. The trail widened and flattened out as we reached open meadows. This meant the river crossing was near and I was far too excited to share this experience with Rui. He wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as me to run through the iced cold water. It was about 7:30pm, sunset. I guess he had a point that cold feet with no sun isn’t the best mix. But we had no choice!

I went first and showed him how much fun it was. I ran through as fast as possible. It seemed to have got deeper than four hours ago and I had forgotten there were two parts to it. The second part, even deeper. What a great way to stay alert!

A couple of girls were running alongside us. The pacer of their group had a radio hanging off her backpack with M83 playing. I ribbed Rui for not having one of these as we ran into Twin Lakes with them, laughing as the music blared. I don’t know what Rui did, but I was feeling so much better after that stretch. I was ready for fresh clothes, some food and my next pacer, 49 years young, 2:41 marathoner, Frankie Bubble aka Francis.

Twin Lakes to Fish Hatchery (60.5 – 76.5)

I sat down and had a large choice of what to eat. Francis and Keila had gone off to buy me sandwiches from a deli (god knows where they found one!) Savory food items were something we did not factor for as much as we should have. Complex carbs with fat and protein. This was ideal food to put on some weight while not spiking my blood glucose. I grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich and some chips as roadies. The one definite savory item that was working for me provided by the aid stations was the Ramen soup with noodles and crushed crackers. Never try something new in a race. Screw it. 100 miles was new and it was working out just fine, the same way I borrowed Francis’s jacket over Hope Pass.

After 60 miles and more importantly, two river crossings it was also time for a wardrobe change. Off came the shoes and compression socks. I looked for blisters although I felt confident this wasn’t that necessary a procedure as my feet felt pretty good. I found about five, oh the power of adrenaline! I slapped on Vaseline, put on new socks and a fresh pair of Cascadia’s. This pair actually belonged to Francis, another late decision. We realized how little give the trail road gave from our Thursday shake out run and my own spare shoes; Brooks Pure Grit (a light weight trail shoe) and Brooks Ghosts (a neutral road shoe) wouldn’t be as suitable. Thank god we were both 11.5!

I changed leukaemia T-shirts, threw on my long sleeve Brooks top and my thin weatherproof Brooks jacket. Lastly, on went the wooly hat and the headlamp. I didn’t think I would need this until the end of this section but it was getting slowly getting dark. Off we went saying goodbye to my parents, Rui and Keila.

Couple of night owls about to knock out 16 miles

This 16 mile section was known as being the most runnable but first we had to climb. I told Francis a statistic I remembered about the race. If you make it out of Twin Lakes inbound, you finish the race. Hope Pass was over with. If he was worried about my mental state, he needn’t of as I confidently told him that. I felt like I was back in the game and the sub-25 buckle was still very much a tangible goal.

I had forgotten that this ascending section was quite long before I could try to run. The plan was to knock out 16/min miles for 10 miles (to Half Pipe aid) and then 14’s into Fish which was flat for 6 miles. My blood glucose was hovering around the 200’s and my caloric intake was still not hitting 500 calories between aid stations but my stomach was trying its best to understand what I was trying to get done out here!

We hit double track trail which was great news. We could run side by side on a track each. We could run! And run we did, at least that’s what it felt like to me in the pitch black with our two headlamps and a flashlight to guide us. I drank a lot more here. Why did i start to drink more now? Probably because it was flatter terrain, I was running and I knew I needed to put on weight for the dreaded next weigh in, especially as I was still under-eating. That had to be at Fish Hatchery.

We arrived at the aid station feeling good, looking good, talking all the way there. Half Pipe sure was a busy Saturday night hang out for the middle of nowhere. Lots of runners looked far too happy to be sitting down and chilling for my liking. I said to Francis, let’s make this a quick stop. I chugged two cups of water, grabbed some fruit and Ramen soup. Maybe Ramen soup will sponsor me for my next 100? That’s right, I was definitely not in a “never again” kind of mood, this was fun, this was what I had trained so hard for over the last six months.

Off we went for 5.6 miles of runnable miles to go. Francis kept encouraging me by telling me the average pace was dropping quickly and we were heading towards the planned pace for the section. We passed through a crew section which was pretty lively. We didn’t use it for Team England and I was glad. My crew needed some sleep and me and Francis were having a grand old-time anyway.

The dirt path road turned a corner and we saw car lights in the distance. It was route 24, the main spine road through Leadville that crew cars had been using to hit up all of the aid stations. Then we saw closer car lights and I knew that was the asphalt road that led me 2 miles into Fish Hatchery. I went for another sip of water from my bladder. It was mostly air.

Rather than waste time and pour water from Francis’s bladder to mine, we adopted the scuba diving ‘buddy breathing‘. He tucked me under his wing as I took water from his mouthpiece whenever I needed it. We had a good laugh at how ridiculous this looked yet no one was actually around to witness it.

Next came the realization I was still wasn’t eating enough food for the weight watchers medics eagerly waiting for me. I ate the second half of the grilled cheese sandwich and some chocolate. This was the plan. Eat and definitely don’t pee in the last miles coming into Fish. I was also now adopting Francis’s warmer jacket as a fourth layer over my backpack. Apart from a water bottle sticking out of my chest, it would take an eagle-eyed medic to realize I was wearing my backpack under the jacket (the crazy ideas you think of at midnight!). I also had on my hat, headlamp and two pairs of gloves. After all I was in the Rockies!

We heard some wild Texas music up ahead. Wow, the aid station is pumping out some Cotton-eye Joe pretty hard we thought. Then we realized it was two southern dudes doing their thing to motivate the runner. We had buddy breathing and ideas to cheat the scales, they had cowboy music. Two different ways to pass the time and entertain ourselves!

Twin Lakes aid station: but where were the dreaded scales?

We ran into the aid station. The pros had all finished and I’m sure a boatload had not returned from Winfield either due to time cut offs or pure exhaustion. I ran into the food area alone. Frankie had done his shift and done it awesomely. I looked for the dreaded scales left and right. Nowhere. I walked ahead. Nothing. Should I ask someone? By the time I considered that I was out of the aid station and back with Francis, Rui and Keila ready for her night shift. No weigh-in, after all that deceiving and well thought out plan!

Fish Hatchery to May Queen (76.5 to 86.5)

My feet felt fine. No need to address them or change shoes. We filled my empty water bladder back up to the max 50oz, reloaded the hand-held with Gatorade and tried to eat a granola bar and some fruit. From the calculations we had done, if this could be a slightly faster than planned 10 miles, Rui would have the chance to whip me back to the finish in sub-25. We all believed it was on.

Keila and I walked out of Fish Hatchery shortly before 1am.  I was eating (nibbling) and needed time to digest it but unfortunately I now had an even more painful area to deal with than my stomach. I was chaffing in my groin really bad. I know, not pleasant reading. Trust me, it was far more uncomfortable trying to knock out the last 23 miles in the discomfort. I had  been adding Vaseline at every aid station all day and night but for whatever the reason, my body and my Salomon compression shorts were not getting along down there. I’ll leave it at that.

The road rolled up and down, to the right and then dipped left onto a dirt path. This was all very runnable stuff but I wasn’t running now. I just walked it as fast as possible towards the start of pipeline climb to the peak of Sugarloaf Pass. I knew the climb would be slow and grueling so I justified that walking towards it would converse what little energy I had left for the long climb. Neither Keila or myself knew the exact distance, we just knew it had several false summits.

The first section was straight up for one mile. We saw a spectacular view of headlamps ahead of us. From memory, this climb then turned left and kept bending around the mountain for at least another two miles. Just like Hope Pass, I told Keila this wasn’t the time to focus on the average pace plan for the ten-mile stretch. This was about what pace could I go without having to stop.

The pace was good. The path up was very smooth if you discounted the huge cracks we kept jumping over in the trail where water must gush down at a frenetic pace during thunderstorms up here. We were however lucky with the lack of rain for the race. The straight up section was done in no time. After two more miles, I found I was only being passed by runners/pacers with trekking poles. I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of these accessories in ‘running’ events. Did they work? Absolutely. We’re they anything to do with running? Absolutely not. I asked a guy who seemed experienced (yes he had trekking poles!) how much further until we hit the summit? He confidently said one mile.

One mile later I was still disappointed that it wasn’t the top. People with trekking poles are also liars!  Keila felt my frustration as I would say “this is definitely it” for the umpteenth time. I wish I never had asked anyone. I wish I had said at the bottom it was at least 5 miles of climbing and then I wouldn’t have got myself into this emotional mess of false summits. I was warned but the newbie in me didn’t listen or research this section enough.

Finally, we made the top. It was now freezing. I still had my two pairs of gloves on and four layers so felt warm enough however. This was now the time I had been waiting for to descend the remaining miles into May Queen. I had told Keila “don’t you worry, when we get to the top of this, we are going to run all the way down to the aid station”. The words were positive but somewhere over Sugarloaf Pass, I let my brain do some more calculations. Even if I could have run down this section, I would have needed a sub-2 hour half marathon finish to get the bigger belt buckle; the under 25 hour finish. Francis had told me earlier that it helps to be really, really stupid in these races, meaning don’t think, just do.

Unfortunately for me, my brain would not shut down. I had run over 80 miles and I was still alert, still calculating, still not being sick! But atop Sugarloaf, my brain told my legs, forget it, that big buckle is not happening, not this time anyway. My legs went into complete sleep mode and would not run. I wanted to, I wanted to so bad but their was nothing. I knew I was going to finish, even if I just walked in. I think i also and knew that if I had tried to run in for the last 18 miles to a sub-25, I risked a very high chance ending up in hospital for a long time. So, I was  caught between two not very appealing options and dragged ass to finish in that huge five-hour window.

We walked and talked all the way downhill on very runnable road to single track to road where a row of cars were parked just before May Queen. We almost kept on going but then realized one of the cars was Team England! It was 4am and it was now the coldest part of the race so far. Sorry Keila, I gave you ten miles of walking but you sure helped me keep moving all the way.

May Queen to Finish (86.5 – 100)

Francis had the chair ready by the side of the car and was open for business! “What do you need Stevie?” I probably muttered something sarcastic like “to finish this race”. Rui was bundled up  head to toe. This was August 19th right? My Mum also looked unrecognizable in numerous layers shaking her hands. This wasn’t triumphant shaking, this was freezing shaking. I pleaded with her to get in the car which Keila had already done to get warm where the heat was on full blast. She finally listened to my advice. Looking back at this scene now reminds me how much determination and positive energy I had the whole time. We got a great tip from Gary Brimmer the day before the race; don’t let him (me) see the car ever. We liked it. We also didn’t use it and it never crossed my mind even for a spilt second to jump in the warm car and call it quits. I had six hours to complete a half marathon and therefore complete my first 100 miler in Leadville, the highest ultra marathon in the States. You could have shown me a warm bed, a shortcut, a free pass to the finish line. Would not have made a difference. I was going the way I came and Rui was going to get me there, absolutely no question.

May Queen aid station at 4am

Off we marched down the road into May Queen aid station. Again, it was jam-packed. Runners camping out trying to get warm, taking their time, some contemplating if they would ever get going again. I wanted something hot unsurprisingly. I said to Rui I wanted Ramen soup and a cup of cocoa. He advised against this combination so I changed up the menu and just went for the cocoa. A nice hot roadie with enough sugar to keep me from having any hypo problems. We broke this last section into two. 7 miles of single track along Turquoise Lake until we would see Francis again at the boat basin (a crew area).

This stretch was my real low point. The sub-25 game had long gone as we walked the trail by the lake. What I remembered as easy trail running on the outbound had now become a really hilly and technical section. I started to get dizzy and told Rui to slow down (he was going as slow as possible) in case I passed out. I tried to munch on some potato chips and sip water as this was the best cure. It worked but then repeated itself every few hundred yards. I think we knocked out those seven miles at about 25/minute per mile. Sounds impossible right? I guess I like making the impossible possible but this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind! Rui told me I looked like Iron Man. I corrected him and said I was Ultra Man! The humor didn’t last long. When I saw a face in a rock I knew I needed to wake up fast. I guess after 25 hours I had finally become tired.

Sunrise over Turquoise Lake: Amazing, although I don’t think I appreciated its beauty as much in the moment!

Just as I had told Keila earlier, I told Rui as soon as we get beyond Boat Basin, the trail flattens out and the road widens up to the finish. I promised him I would get faster. I felt this huge amount of guilt that he was having to go so slow in such cold conditions when only hours before we were two kids flying down Hope Pass at 8:30 pace.

Before I could start thinking too much about how far Boat Basin was, Francis appeared on the trail. What a great sight! The car and that comfy chair couldn’t be far away. We high-fived and kept walking. Only a handful of spectators were siting outside by the lake watching the sunrise. My Mum and Keila were passed out in the car but Francis had it all under full control. I needed more Vaseline I exclaimed! I sat in the chair for a while with the throw over me to try to get warmer. My sugar was over 200 but I didn’t care. Better than dealing with a hypo at this stage of the game. Runners were passing through slowly. I noticed that none of them looked cold. They also had less layers on than me. That was it. To hell with all these layers! I took off my track suit pants, gloves and one of the jackets. If I was cold now, I would just to have to move faster!

We left and immediately walked at a really brisk pace. It was probably around 15/min miles. Rui said “We are going to walk like bad asses all the way into the finish line and take back some places that belonged to me!” A random woman sitting right there said “Hell yeah!” We had no clue she was there but were amused she was a ‘fly on the wall’ to our crazy army talk!

Off we went. The first few steps were so excruciating, I cannot find clean enough words to describe the pain. But as soon as I got into astride, the pain numbed (slightly). It sure felt better going faster than 25/minute miles. I hadn’t gone this fast since running into Twin Lakes over 17 miles ago. We marched down a dirt road as the sun kept rising. We were passing people. One guy, then another, then one more appeared. The best part about this was they were still in running motion, we were power walking and it was no contest.

Rui knew it was 3.5 miles of gradual uphill to the finish. I had forgotten this part completely. He told me to swing my arms as if I was running while maintaining the brisk walking technique. Who was this guy? An English teacher or a marine? Our pace went from 15/min miles to 12:15’s with this technique! More people were passed.

Turquoise Lake at 6:30am. Who needs sleep with views like this?!

This wasn’t to say it was easy. Far from it. I was real beat up doing this but happier than dragging ass into the finish. He had a game plan and I trusted him with my life. Occasionally Rui would ask the random spectator the actual time. His plan was foiled when one person responded “You can break 28 if you keep going like that”. I liked his plan, until he told me we would need to run the last mile. The last mile was 2/3 uphill and he wanted me to run it?! Would have been so easy, if only I hadn’t run about 104 before it!!

He firmly shouted “Go!” and we started running. Another runner said “You’ve got plenty of time” referring to the 30 hour limit. He obviously didn’t have a Rui pacing him home! After 100 yards of running though, I stopped and went back to walking hoping Rui wouldn’t notice. He turned and said “Come on!”. For one of the rarest times in my life I said the words I hate most “I can’t”. He didn’t let up and said it again and again. “Rui, you know me, right? If I could I would but I just can’t. Sub-28, 28 and change. It’s the same thing. Let me enjoy the final mile rather than kill myself. Their will be other times.” He sighed and gave in to my plea, maybe because I implied this wasn’t going to be a one and done 100 mile show. But what a pacer. This guy had never paced anyone before and here he was with these techniques and motivational words all the way home. 4 hours to cover 13 miles. I owe you lots of pacing brother!

We met Francis and Keila with about 3/4 mile to go on E 6th Street. I whipped off my backpack, jacket and top. I had to showcase the leukaemia T-shirt for the final stretch. Their was no need to run anymore  but I instinctively did anyway. I ran that 3/4 mile as hard as I could with my three amazing pacers alongside me.

6 months of training and 100 miles comes to an end. What a journey!

At just after 8am, I stepped onto the famous red carpet and broke the tape, a nice touch the organizers do for all official finishers. My eyes swelled with tears as I sent a little prayer up to heaven to my uncle. 28 hours and 2 minutes. I received my medal from a woman I recognized from the Leadville Race Series store. We hugged as if we knew each other for years, not two days. Then  I was surrounded by my pacers for high fives, big smiles and more hugs and then my Mum which was such a special moment. We didn’t say much but I’m sure we were both thinking of what I had achieved in honor of Uncle Dave. Medics took me into a tent for a mandatory check up and weigh in. I was up 2lbs from Winfield, must have been all that buddy breathing with Frankie!

Post-race with the best pacers anyone could wish for!

I left the finish area staggering out. Moments earlier I had just run across the finish line but now my body was in complete shut down. The brain is so powerful, its scary. I found a space on a bench and dumped myself onto it guzzling cold water next to Rui who looked as beat as me. He had run a marathon in total and not eaten or slept well for a long time either. That’s the thing about crewing/pacing, you are as tired as the runner and I fully appreciated that and everyone’s commitment. I did my post-race blood test; 178, OK, great. No need for any sugar or insulin, my brain could shut down. Francis got the car and we drove back to the hotel. Although it was only half a mile away I still managed to fall asleep during the ride! I got carried up the stairs to the room and I crawled into bed, fully clothed. Out cold with a smile on my face. Finishing is winning? Darn right, especially in Leadville.

Now that it’s all done and dusted, I’ve had lots of my friends ask “What was the worst part about it?” That’s a pretty negative question and my answer is relatively short. If they were to ask me “What was the best part?”, they would have heard what you just have read. Everything about it was the best part. From the training, the leukaemia fundraising, the build up races, the research, my friends and parents coming out to Leadville and of course finishing it. My place was 169 out of 364 finishers. A very low 45% completion rate. Those numbers make me feel proud, I’m forever part of the Leadville family as are my parents, Rui, Francis and Keila.

What a journey. Leadville is in my heart forever just like my hero and inspiration, my brave Uncle Dave.

Race Report: Leadville Trail 100 (Outbound)

The alarm was 2:30, the hours of sleep I had just had was about 3 and the race of my life was starting at 4. This was the start of crunching numbers over the next 28 hours from time of day, mile pace, glucose, carbohydrates, calories, elevation and distance. The hardest, longest biggest running test of my life was literally about to begin.

LT100 Elevation Profile

Sub-24 LT100 plan. Arguably more thorough than German engineering.

The plan I had prepared for my crew and pacers for times I would be at various aid stations, pace, distance etc. wasn’t likely to stick over 100 miles. That strict German like statistical plan had its first change as early as 2:17am. My body clock alarm knew beat than the electronic one. The BlackBerry didn’t get a chance to pump out its merry tune at me and my three peacefully sleeping pacers; Rui, Francis and Keila.
I showered and came back to the bedroom with all lights on and Chariots of Fire playing. These pacers sure knew how to get me going! I put on my gear (next track Rocky) making sure not to have anything loose in my feet, socks or Brooks Cascadia trail shoes. Yes, that much detail was needed to have a successful race. I wore my compression shorts with my Brooks shorts over, where my bib number 260 proudly showed*

Uncle Dave was an avid hiker before his cancer. Leadville seemed a fitting tribute to him and his courageous battle.

*Something I have not mentioned on rundiabetes before is my charity work I have done for Leukemia and Lymphoma Research, for my Uncle Dave’s favorite charity. He had been fighting this cancer for 8-1/2 years and my family sadly lost him shortly after his 60th birthday earlier this year. What was to be one of his final goals in life was to reach that huge birthday milestone and celebrate it with Aunty Rosie and my cousin Graham. Being given that numbe “2-60” by race organizer, Shannon Gipson, let me pay him the respect he deserves, my hero, my inspiration. He would be with me every step of the way on this journey even more so now.  If you care to, my sponsorship page is still taking donations: http://www.justgiving.com/Stephen-England-100-for-Uncle-Dave
I went down to the hotel breakfast with the gang at 3am. We all ate and shared small talk and jokes like nothing big was about to happen. I wasn’t nervous, I was ready. This was it. They drove me the 1/2 mile down Harrison Avenue to the start line on E 6th Street with about 15 minutes to go. Any longer hanging around there and I knew I would just get cold and impatient.

15 minutes to go with Keila and Frankie seeing me off!

On top I had my Leukaemia T-shirt with Brooks arm warmers, long sleeve top and rain jacket, new Leadville wooly hat with headlamp and my backpack with its 50oz water bladder and 20oz of Gatorade in my water bottle with blood tester in zip-lock close by, food supplies and salt tablets. This was ultimate business mode. Not one thing had been forgotten. Well, OK, so I did forget to bring my gloves to the start but let’s forget that! Frankie’s offer of using his socks as gloves was very kind but I turned him down. I decided it would get warm quickly and it wasn’t freezing cold, I think about 45 degrees.
Start to May Queen (0-13.5)

4am start line – 802 runners raring to go!

Final blood glucose check before the race; 210. Perfect. My basal rate was set to -70%. I would check blood glucose every hour of the race and consume at least one S!Cap salt capsule (more if my legs cramped and when the sun would be out later on).

The US anthem blared, the gun was fired and we were finally off heading west out of Leadville towards Turquoise Lake. 11:24/min miles was the planned pace for this 13.5 mile section. I had never ran that pace ever before. I knew where mile 1 and 2 were from Thursday’s shake out run. All i neededto remember was, don’t go out too fast. 802 headlamps were shining down E 6th Street and then down a dirt path road. Everyone was talking and laughing. Everyone was buzzing! The view of headlamps from the middle of the pack was beautiful and inspiring, everyone here trying to finish this race for different reasons and different goals.  The reality of the race though was that only half would come back up this road. The statistics tell you from the previous 29 years of this second oldest 100 mile race, that only 42% will actually finish. The completion rate is the lowest in any 100 mile race.

Heading west down E 6th Street from the start line

The wide dirt path road took a sharp right and we went from runners to climbers up a steep single track trail. We got back on road and hit Turquoise Lake at about 6 miles, now back on single track around the perimeter where passing was not really an option. Probably a blessing in disguise. I looked up ahead and saw a line of bright headlamps lights stretching for over a mile. This image was simply breathtaking. On went the iPod shuffle. ‘Who Needs a Road’ by Signpost Sound. Not me. This was absolute heaven.

Running at Turquoise lake: an endless line of light

After another 7 miles of this huge lake, I entered May Queen aid station 4 minutes slower than my predicted time. That was pretty good as I was not using my Garmin’s GPS to tell me every fine detail. Why? The battery life of my watch is 6 hours, the course record is 15:42. Doesn’t work. It wasn’t so much that my pace was so true though, it had more to do with the fact I had 4 pit stops to do what bears do best in the woods! My stomach did not seem at all impressed with my pre-race Pizza Hut dinner.
I had so far eaten two granola bars and sipped on some Gatorade, approximately 500 calories in total. If I could maintain that caloric intake between aid stations for the whole race, I had a good chance of ‘keeping my stomach’ which basically means not throwing my guts up, a common occurrence in ultra running. One slight problem with my food intake plan though, my glucose results for 2, 3 and 4 hours were all 300+. Until I could bring that back down under 200, any food would just keeping pushing that number up and up and making me feel diabetic sick, let alone vomit sick.
I grabbed some water and some fruit and adjusted my insulin basal to +10%. I have never gone into the plus while exercising before so this was new territory but I had to get it lower so I could start eating. A 100 miles was a new experience as was controlling my glucose for it.
May Queen to Fish Hatchery (13.5 to 23.5)
After this short aid stop that also involved taking my shoes off to shake out a mini stone which would have otherwise caused a huge blister, I walked up a steep road while talking to a familiar face, Michelle, a hardcore ultra girl I had met at the Massanutten Mountain 100 race in May that I had paced Chris Solarz at. She only ran the toughest 100 mile races all with mountains but ironically lived in Florida! I asked if she was going to see her crew at Fish like myself. She said she didn’t have any crew or pacers for the whole thing! Some egotistical men in my shoes may have felt really small and weak at this point. Not me! I was feeling even more lucky to have Team England around, waiting for me down the road in ten miles. Hats off to Michelle though.
We climbed Sugarloaf Pass for about 5 miles as the sun rose over the mountains. The headlamp was long gone and stored in my backpack to hand off to my crew. The views were spectacular, a huge factor in why I chose this race to be my first 100. I knew later on in the race, these kind of views would serve the perfect distraction to my tired engine. Someone referred to this race as the devil due to its altitude a while back. I looked at it from a different perspective though. This was mountain running at its finest.

Asthmatic meets diabetic at 11,000ft. #mutual respect

I talked to a guy, Mike Poland, on the climb, at first about the course as I had overheard him earlier discussing it so I picked his brain on how long this climb was. He had completed it once in 23 hours so I knew I was going roughly the right pace for sub-24 although he had also not finished it three times. Yep, this was Leadville alright. A beautiful course but real tough too at no lower than 9000ft up to 12,600ft not once but twice.

The conversation shifted to health. He was 45 and I was impressed with his fitness. He reminded me of Francis in many ways and I talked about him to Mike. This was the first year Mike was taking on Leadville though with a new hurdle; asthma. My reaction was “what the hell are you doing here in mountain thin air?!” But then he saw me doing a blood test and we suddenly just realized we were just two peas in a pod who wouldn’t let anything stop us from achieving things we really wanted in life.
At the top of Sugarloaf I pushed on and descended 5 miles, a famous stretch called Powerline. It wasn’t famous for the descent though.  The return ascent to come in the dark is where most runners stagger up it like zombies, a real brutal section for later. I descended at a fairly quick pace clipping off quite a few places. The final stretch of downhill was in a straight line for over a mile with mini plateaus. So much fun.  A film crew was at the base using a camera on a panning tripod. I milked this moment for all it was worth, pointing to my ‘260’ bib while flying past hearing the shutter continuously open and close. I felt like a Leadville rock star except I had 80 more miles to go before getting too ahead of myself.

23.5 done and all smiles at Fish Hatchery

I ran along a road into Fish Hatchery and saw my pacers for the first time since the start, almost 5 hours ago. I had almost run a marathon at this point and was glad to see them. They asked me how was it going? What did I need? I wanted to sit down in the chair we had purchased and get a cold Coke on board as my sugar had just dropped to hypo level at 74 after being at 300+ for hours. Neither of those items were there. They were in the car. For whatever reason, we had our first error. Well, I forgot my gloves at the start so it was the second one I guess. I was annoyed but not too much. How could I be? My friends had flown in from Arizona and New York for me, woken up at 2:30, started playing Chariots of Fire and now here they were doing their very best to support me and help me complete this race. We borrowed a chair and I think Francis ran to the car to get a Coke. Problem resolved quickly. Great work team.
Fish Hatchery to Twin Lakes (23.5 – 39.5)

25% done with Hope Pass looming in the distance.

I pulled out of Fish back to some rare asphalt running. I remember thinking how hot it had quickly got. I was now in my lightest of clothing options with just my Leukaemia T-shirt, backpack, visor and Oakley shades up top. This was not a day to go shirtless with backpack combo. Chaffing was already becoming a slight concern down south. The crew car unexpectedly pulled alongside me and gave me some cheers and then completely unplanned, pulled to the side of the road and got ready to greet me again. Great, I thought. I can now get more sugary food in case I go low again (something I should have done at Fish).

An improv pit stop with the crew

I did another blood test before grabbing any food as I had just been low. I was now 236. Wow, good job i checked. I had shot up so quickly. Scrap anymore simple carbohydrates! I readjusted my basal % once more and kept going.
The road swept right and went on for at least another mile. I thought at this point, thank god I was not running the New York 100 that Keila did which was all on this stuff. I saw my pal, Gary Brimmer from Brooks (crewing for another runner) who checked in on me. “Anyone told you that they love you yet today?” I was a bit taken back by ex-army tough guy Gary’s approach! I mumbled a no. “I love you” said Gary as he slapped me on the back. What a great feeling that was, probably why he is a coach!
I re-entered the trail towards the woods leading to Half Pipe. This became the music mile. What am I talking about? I passed a guy who without any introduction exclaimed to me “Dude, I’m listening to Vanilla Ice!!” I said I couldn’t compete with such a class act, I had on 30 Seconds to Mars and gave him a well deserved high-five. I found this moment so funny and random that I then asked a lady I was passing what she was listening too. She had no idea who she was listening too! I helped her out and informed her it was Red Hot Chili Peppers. She defended that her son had made the playlist for her. What a cool mom tearing up the LT100, I bet her son was proud of her! As nice as she was and after losing round 1, I had to inform her that I had Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” which trumped RHCP. We laughed about it and cracked on!
This was typical small talk between runners on the outbound journey. Most of us had crew/pacers but in between those aid stations, we socialized with other runners making new friends along the way. They were anything but competitors. The course was enough competition. They were companions sharing the road.
I ran through Half Pipe aid station (a small no crew and fluids only stop) and kept going at a nice pace on a flattish dirt path for miles. The last few miles turned into descending switchbacks on single track and dirt path. I passed Jason Friedman from NJ, the guy who beat me by half a mile at Running with the Devil. He didn’t look too hot and said so himself. Twin Lakes became visible as two small lakes but these quickly became much bigger as the descent continued.
As I was behind my sub-24 pace after Fish, I used this downhill section to gain some time back. A bit too much though as i took a lovely spill here. I was passing several runners and shouting “on your left” meaning they should get the hell to the right ASAP! Two runners were side by side as I approached looking for my gap through when down I went, hard on my right hand and elbow. I got up pretty quickly as these guys were probably thinking, what are you doing going so fast! I brushed myself off and kept going. I did a quick check and saw I had nice layer of skin missing from my hand and elbow. I tried to wipe the blood off on my shorts but accidentally got it on my bib instead. I looked at the bib and couldn’t help to raise a smile up to the sky. My 260 bib was now blood, sweat and tears. How very fitting I said in my head to my uncle.

Roaring into Twin Lakes aid station in front of Team England!

I came down one final steep hill to roars of cheers from the Twin Lakes crowd. Loudest of course was Team England. My parents were now there with my pacers all wearing their Leukaemia T-shirts and waving Union flags (Frankie tells me it is only called a Union Jack flag when it is on the back of a boat. I believe him!) What an absolutely awesome reception! I told them I made some noise back there referring to gaining time back, flying the descents as I love to do. Their may have been an f bomb in that sentence too, which for once my parents didn’t call me out on. This time, the chair was there as well as all the food and clothes choices. The team was working better than a professional pit lane crew!
My blood sugars had been around 100 for this last 16 miles. I continued to snack on granola bars and Gatorade through that section. My blood glucose at Twin Lakes was 177. More cheers from Team England! It was so pleasurable to see my friends understand what my blood sugars meant. Cheers when they were good, ask what they could do when they were too high or too low. They were definitely understanding diabetes at a fast pace. I took down a Coke and some mini burritos. The key was to get me eating as much real food as possible before my stomach would shut down.
Twin Lakes – Winfield (39.5 – 50)

Rui giving me the pre-Hope Pass pep talk

After 7 of my planned 10 minutes break I was up and going again. The hardest part of the course was coming up. You couldn’t really miss it. Hope Pass mountain was 3,400ft above me standing at 12,600ft above sea level higher than treeline aka where there’s not very much oxygen. Rui walked me out of the aid station and I said to him, “see you in 3” referring to the planned hours it would take me to ascend and descend Hope into Winfield where he would jump in and starting pacing me back home.
I ran through green meadows looking straight up, not worried or imitated by Hope Pass, just intrigued by how hard this was actually going to be and how good the views were going to get!  I passed Tom and Casey, crew for the Team Type 1 athletes, Ryan and Jon. I had just met them officially the day prior and was surprised when they asked me if I needed anything which was super nice. More about Team Type 1 another time, but its exciting news worthy of its own blog.

Ice cold Colorado river crossing – I didn’t need waking up mind, I was so ready to climb Hope Pass!

I soon heard the running water of the river. The first river crossing was about to happen. I had read that the river can be waist deep after heavy winters. Not so, this year. It was just below the knee but ice-cold as it should be. I didn’t take any huge risks here as i held on to the rope as i crossed quickly. Such fun! My shoes were now double the weight. I knew the sun would dry them off in no time so there was no need to worry about blisters or cold feet. It was refreshing. Good thing too, I was about to climb and climb hard.

I turned right onto a single track in the woods where the climb officially began. My planned pace on my wristband was irrelevant. I knew the only way to tackle this was for me to take it up at an honest pace that I could maintain the whole way. At first we climbed some switchbacks and along the river once more that only the runners would get to see. It seemed like a secret place as you would never know or imagine this was here by looking at Hope Pass from far away.

Hope Pass; 3,400ft in 3.5 miles

The grade got steeper and didn’t let up, some times with my heels without a chance of touching down before the next step forward. Forward relentless progress I kept telling myself. If I was moving, I was doing enough. Without much warning Anton Krupicka and his pacer Dakota Jones bombed down the mountain in the lead of the race. I gave him a shout as clearly he knew me now after we had met for 5 minutes yesterday at Safeway car park! He actually did give me a shout back. Maybe Scott Jurek had told him to give me some encouragement when he saw me?! Next came Team Salomon’s Thomas Lorblanchet and pacer Anna Frost, who i personally believe is the best female ultra runner around right now. They were about 7-8 minutes behind. A few of us started talking about the leaders. Would Anton win? Where was Nick Clark? It was so exciting. I was watching one of the biggest 100 mile races unfold in front of my eyes. Hang on a minute…I was in this race! Focus!
After about 2 miles, we started climbing through open sections so I knew the treeline was close and then there it was, open space ahead towards half a dozen tents, the Hope Pass aid station. At this point, I was the front engine of about seven runners working as a unit up Hope Pass. It was great teamwork. As for the aid station, I was expecting a small table and a few gallons of water. It was so much better. Volunteers ran towards us and asked what we wanted in our water bottles. I was tempted to ask for oxygen but went for the more reasonable request of water from a kid who took my number and flew back up the mountain to refill it and return in less than a minute. I joked to him it was better than service at the Ritz-Carlton. I’m pretty sure he didn’t get it or just thought I wasn’t funny. I have had time to reflect on my joke and now firmly believe it was the latter.
We passed llamas hanging out on the open fields. I peeked into the tent where several runners were slouched on seats taking a break, eating soup or worst of all throwing up. Their stomachs were already giving out at mile 44 ish??! I didn’t spend much time looking at that image. This was not from an unconcerned perspective, they were in good hands from medics, I just didn’t want to see any negative stuff to put me off my game.

The view north from 12,600ft – I had just run 45 miles to get here

From this aid point, I knew it was just a half mile more to the top of Hope Pass; 12,6000ft. Single track all the way. You could see the route as runners were spread out zig zagging up over the switchbacks, some hiking, some hands on knees exhausted. My train carriages had all departed for soup and chairs at the aid station but I was on the express track. I kept the pace going, I stuck to my plan. I think it was about a 2 hour climb, I try to forget even now sitting at home typing this. Whatever it took, the views were worth it. I turned back as I remember reading as a ‘must do’ and saw just how small Twin Lakes now looked and even further away, how small Turquoise Lake looked. Yep, I had come all this way on two feet and so far it felt great. No time to hang around though, the wind was blowing hard and the temperature was about 30 degrees less than Twin Lakes.

Loving the Hope Pass descent!

As was becoming the norm, I descended the back of Hope swiftly except when going over huge rocks that were part of a mountain landslides and when the grade just became too steep to stay in control. I knew this side would be steeper coming back up and their was the proof. When I put the brakes on downhill, it’s steep. A small group of guys at a bridge crossing at the bottom said “just down here to Winfield.” OK, great news chaps, I thought.

In previous years, the course took you onto a dirt road here for 1.5 miles into Winfield. This year, they made a last-minute course change that was confirmed at the pre-race meeting; a single track trail into Winfield to avoid runners and cars sharing the road. Rumors flew around that this  had extended the course between 1.5-3 miles in each direction. The crowd cheered when this news was confirmed. Being a “newbie” to the Leadville family I had no idea if this was good or bad but took it as good news as the majority cheered.
From post-race research, I found out it was an extension of 2.5 miles in each direction making the course about 105 miles. I would have taken car dust over 5 more miles any day but I’m sure my new buddy Mike Poland disagrees! The trail at one point gave a good view of Winfield aid station with the car pack absolutely packed. All I cared about was seeing it, knowing I was so now close to the halfway point. Oh no, no, no, not so fast newbie! This new trail section went past the aid station and looped around for another mile or so. What a head spinner!

The new section; single track trail into Winfield

I started asking inbound runners who were sharing the trail (the course is out and back) how far was it to go. Some said 1 mile, others said 2. It was pointless, just keep going, then you would know, I said to myself. I finally saw some people sane enough to not be runners so I knew it was close..ish. One female spectator shouted “finishing is winning”. I thought it was cute, but not my game plan.
I saw Ryan Jones from Team Type 1 walking up the road with Tom and Casey. We shared a quick exchange. He wasn’t feeling too hot and I said that Hope had taking me longer than I thought plus the trail sucked for being long. He agreed and said he was shooting for a 27-28 hour finish. I responded saying, I guess now is a good time to give up on my sub-24 plan then? We all laughed and realized our race expectations were quickly turning into the ‘let’s just finish in the allotted time’ plan. The race was definitely starting to hurt now, especially my stomach and I couldn’t help but think the spectator who just shouted “finishing is winning” was pretty close to the truth.
At the same section I also bumped into Brooks ID ultra runner Shannon Price pacing his friend for the entire back 50! We have been Facebook friends for years cheering each other on but had never met until that moment. It was nice seeing all these people I knew from my crew, Team Type 1 guys and Brooks ID friends.  The respect between runner to runner and between runner to spectator was incredible. You knew you were part of something really special.

Time for a break. 50 miles and my stomach wasn’t so happy.

I recall Christopher McDougall talking about his Leadville experience in New York in a not so positive light. He was so relieved to be told he had NOT made the cut off time to keep going when he hit Winfield!
I rolled into Winfield aid an hour behind my plan at 11:47. I got weighed to make sure I wasn’t dangerously over weight (from over hydration) or under weight (from lack of fluids/foods). I had dropped 7lbs. If only I was on America’s Biggest Loser instead of halfway through Leadville 100, this would have been really good news. The medical staff had every right to keep me under their watch until I had put back on some weight. If I had lost double this, the worst scenario would have come into play and they would have had the right to pull me out of the race. I didn’t spend much time thinking about that scenario! The medics gave me a look that said eat more, or you’re going to get in trouble. I went over to my crew like a naughty school boy and told them all about my weight issues!
I slumped into the chair, now a little depressed for the first time. It wasn’t the loss of weight though, being tired or doubting myself to finish. It was the fact I was now an hour behind my goal plan of a sub-24 finish and I knew it was gone.  My glucose was however on the money at 158 so that brought some good news back my way. Everyone knew how important it was for me to eat real food with lots of fat to get the weight back on. My stomach was knotting up and I overheard Keila saying “he will lose his stomach real soon”. Great, just what I didn’t need. Throwing up all over the mountains while trying to run 50+ miles back to Leadville. This was a real low point for me and I was so pleased I had pacers all the way home. I ditched the iPod shuffle, I now had my brother Rui for company up and down the Hope Pass return. I ate some Ramen soup with noodles and crackers and some cheese. I couldn’t take much down though, my stomach was fighting me. After a long rest stop it was time to get this thing going again. As Ken Chlouber’s son, Cole said in the pre-race pep talk, it was now time to do it all over again. I looked at Rui with eyes that said “Let’s roll”.

Nutrition Plan for Leadville Trail 100

The race of my life is less than 9 days away. As I pack my bag ready to head west, I put together what appears to be a small candy store. You see, 100 mile races have been tongue in cheek called “food eating contests that involve some running”. If there is no fuel, there can be no fire. The good news? I like to eat a lot! Saying this, I’ve just never tried to eat so much while running up and down mountains for a very very long time.

The Nutrition Experiment has been in effect since I began ultrarunning a year ago

I have learnt how to manage my glucose control for every day easy training runs, speed workouts, marathon races and beyond. Most have been successful but even I have had my fair share of hypo’s and hyperglycemia experiences. During Running with the Devil in July, I was able to record my glucose on a regular basis (every 5K loop) for the first time. If I exclude my early low of 62 after 3 miles, my glucose range over 12 hours of running was really between 110-180. That’s great numbers and something I hope to repeat in Leadville.

I did this by consuming about 60 grams of simple carbohydrate per hour. It is therefore an easy calculation for me to consume 1 gram of carbohydrates per 1 minute. What I got away with at Devil, I will not get away with at Leadville though; I really didn’t consume much ‘real food’. I need to make sure I consume complex carbohydrate, fat and protein foods as much as possible before my stomach shuts down in the race. It will happen. My guess is around mile 60 onwards! But it really is just that, a guess. So, here’s what’s on the food menu with approximate grams of carbohydrates for August 18-19;

Chicken burrito 80g

Haribo cola bottles 75g

Pizza slice 45g

Grilled cheese sandwich 40g

Pro Bar food bar 48g

Powerbar Energy Blasts 45g

Clif Sports Bar 42g

Coca-Cola 39g

M & M’s 34g

Gatorade 20oz 30g

Honey Stinger gel 29g

Jelly Belly Sport Beans 25g

Clif Crunch granola bar 25g

Pineapple slice 7g

Watermelon slice 5g

Orange quarter 3g

Gatorade and Coke are foods! If any liquid contains carbohydrates, that’s food to any diabetic athlete I know. Talking of liquid, I need to try and consume 40-60oz of water per hour (Scott Jurek says 80oz but that is tough!). Whatever ounces amount I consume in Gatorade/Coke per hour, the remainder will be water. My goal is to consume at least half a water bottle (10 oz) of Gatorade per hour (15g carbs). The remaining 30-50oz will come from water. When I need more sugar and caffeine, the famous Coke cans of ultra running will come in. A 12oz can is 39g carbs.

No pretzels, chips or salty bar snacks; I’ve tried them before, most notably at JFK 50 Miler last year where I cramped up and lost a ton of time. Personally, they take a long time to digest and have since been experimenting with salt capsules.  My weapon of choice is S!Caps; 315mg sodium and 80g potassium goodness! I throw down at least 2 per hour running. In the short period of time, I have been using them I have not cramped up yet with this formula and I can thank one of my pacers, Francis Laros for giving me a few to sample first. He is my dealer!

The key to my nutrition plan revolves around blood tests. Obviously, if my blood glucose is above 200, I’m not going to take as much carbohydrates and if it drops into double digits, I may increase my carbohydrates to 100g over that one hour period and reduce my basal. The game plan as determined by Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center is to stay in the 160-200 glucose range. Consistent testing will be key and I will test every hour and make the necessary adjustments. When my brain shuts down during the second half of the race, I will rely on my crew (my parents) and my three awesome friends working as pacers; Francis Laros, Rui Guimaraes and Keila Merino, to keep my “food eating contest” on track, to help test my blood glucose regularly and to ultimately keep me going forward. My team will be registered nurses by the time we finish. I sincerely hope I can write about no hypos or hyperglycemia episodes in my race report to come. Watch this space.

Race Report: Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K

Laurel Highlands Ultra, Pennsylvania

It has only been 13 months since I crossed the divide from my comfort zone of 26.2 miles in big cities and thousands of spectators to the somewhat underground world of ultrarunning described as anything longer than a marathon. I had had now signed up for my second 50K race in 8 days (on the back of my North Face mud fest).

This happened partly because my closest running buddies and I wanted a glamping (glorious camping!) weekend away from NYC, but also because my training plan called for it! The Laurel Ultra, an hour south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a famous point-to-point 70.5 mile race. I had been prodded and asked a few times to do this. As much as I wanted to, I’m a strict runner when it comes to my training plan, so thank goodness for the cop out option of ‘just’ a 50K instead!

A nice hilly start!

I studied the elevation profile as usual. Three early hill climbs appealed to me as a good hard effort in preparation for Leadville but the remainder of the course seemed flat(ish) in comparison. The race topped out at 3,000 ft, nothing on Colorado’s Hope Pass of 12,600 ft to come but that’s not a road trip weekend away.

Ready for the start; me, Ila, Alisa, Fiddy & Beck

Rick Freeman (the race director, who kindly excepted our very late entries), got us underway alongside the 50K relay teams, most notably my favorite team, “Karaoke at the Monk”, running trails for the first time! I’m glad me or Keila never shared with them the website description of the course before they signed up;

“This is a very challenging course. Difficult footing is the norm, as steep grades, logs, rocks, steps, mud and other obstacles abound.”

At the start, some guys bombed it out of the gate. I was not up for such craziness, note my reaction in the photo (below).

Are they for real?!

 As we had three friends in the relay, I knew I would see at least two friendly faces at each transition area; mile 12 and 20. I took advantage of this situation from a diabetic perspective. I would do ‘during’ activity blood tests which was a rarity for me.

Entering aid station #1

So, at mile 12, I saw Steven and Sheila. I said “blood tester” and “chews” to them like they were my servants! (haha, sorry guys). Blood test=155. OK, but I was 225 at the start so I knew I was decreasing. I grabbed the Powerbar chews (think adult cola bottles!) from Sheila and ate them in 10 seconds flat. I asked where I stood as it was hard to gauge with the relay race also taking place. I was 5th. The one problem, the other 4 were 15-20 minutes ahead. This sounded like last week all over again but today my legs were already tired and my body was not cooperating to chase them down.

Running through huge rocks was lots of fun

I decided to relax (it does happen occasionally) and enjoy the rest of the race for what it was. Afterall, this is not the big event and I was happy with 5th. It would still be my second highest ultramarathon finish. From here as I was now on a section of switch backs and rolling terrain on single track (my favorite kind of trail). Their were many wooden bridges to cross and huge rock formations to squeeze between. Trail running sure is a blast!

Green, green trails!

Mile 20; same drill with my friends helping me out. Blood test=195, still happy with that. I try to be in the 150-200 zone when running. Any higher and my body feels heavy and tired due to too much sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia), minus 80 and I will start to get weak and tired (hypoglycemia). The goal, don’t feel tired due to diabetes alone but if it’s because I’m a running mad man, that’s OK! Hypoglycemia (commonly referred to as “hypo”) can be the same feeling marathoners get when they “hit the wall”. It’s basically your body running out of gas (glycogen stores). Being diabetic, my gas tank can just keeps going down at a faster rate putting me in danger of collapsing or worst scenario falling into a coma. That’s when consuming fast acting sugar (simple carbohydrates) comes into play and brings me back to a safe level 80+mg/dL.

At 3,000 ft up the view is pretty sick!

After hitting the summit of the course at 3,000 ft I took a few seconds to soak up the view (right). Why not? I reached the last aid stop at mile 26. Although not a relay transition area, I expected my friends to be there. I thought “Wow, I was so fast those last 6 miles I must have finally beaten them!” Wrong. They got lost and went straight to the finish! I was not relying on this however; for one I had the aid station, more importantly I was wearing my Salomon backpack/vest filled with enough candy to host a Halloween party. Such a comfortable piece of equipment allows me to never be in danger of having a hypo while running and not being able to get out of it, especially in the middle of nowhere.

After running through some rare open fields which was a ski resort with a stationary chairlift overhead (I thought I had run onto the set of ‘A Sound of Music’)and two more hills the end was finally close with a very friendly sign saying “50K FINISH, TURN LEFT”. I felt so bad for the hardcore guys I was passing doing the real deal 70.5 race. They had 40 more miles to go. Thank goodness for the 50K option I thought once more, I was done.

That’s how a result board should look! Labels stuck on a piece of cardboard #iloveultras!

I crossed the line in 5th . My friends were there waiting and cheering and told me I could have got 4th. “What are you talking about?” I said. “I never saw anyone in the 50K race for the last 20 miles”. It was true, I was 17 seconds from 4th place but never even saw the guy until we had finished. Oh well, no big deal. The legend of Steve Prefontaine will tell you that 4th is the worst place to finish anyway!

Anyway, my glucose was 201. It was now time to get to work on bringing that down to 100. A Nike moto; “There is no finish line” explains the life of a diabetic. Continuous glucose monitoring, balancing my lifestyle with insulin intake is my 24 hour, 365 day job. As, I was adjusting my sugar levels, Keila came flying in for 3rd female, overall 8th and as for those relay newbies; they killed it with an amazing 2nd overall place. I was so happy for all of them. We headed back to our glamping retreat (a fellow diabetic’s B&B ironically) for a BBQ feast and some well deserved beers!

Smiles all round. The Laurel Ultra has been conquered!

 

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