46 Mile Pinellas Trail Challenge – 4th Overall

Start of the race with my Clever Training team.

This is the third race in the Summer Slam series and feels like it’s equivalent to the Belmont Stakes in the Triple Crown. Having ran the Beat the Warthog 50K seven weeks earlier and the DURTY B-EE-RR-UN 6hr race 4 weeks later you have three weeks to recover for this. I had the fastest time the weekend of the 50K but had to run remote in Miami as we had a concert that evening. For the 6 Hour race, despite my intention of not going hard and saving myself, I ended up winning and setting a new course record of 39 miles. So after the race surely I would rest and recover tapering for the 46 mile race. Well I took the first few days off before heading to England for my cousins wedding and that Thursday morning enjoyed a nice 8 mile run in the Lake District. The following night back in Stockport, jet lag and a late night catching up to me I went for a short 6 mile run before we went for dinner with friends. Saturday morning I decided to run to Lyme Park, 4 miles away, I forgot that it was all uphill. When I got there, cars were in a line paying to get in. I thought it was just a park so decided to run in and see where everyone was going. Another 2 miles uphill later I eventually came to the big house and then run another half mile up to the tower for some great 360 degree views of Stockport. Eventually I made it back home 16 miles in the book. The next 4 days I continued to explore and find new places to run before I took stock of the week. I had ran 7 straight days, 71 miles for my second highest weekly volume of the year, so much for rest, recovery and taper. Now back to Florida with 7 days to the race and have to reacclimatize to the 40 degree plus difference in temperature plus the humidity.

Race start, leading the pack out.

This was my goal race for 2018, having missed the year prior to injury I really wanted this and felt like I had a good chance. I had trained more than the previous 2 years and was confident of a PR, my goal time was 6:55, a minute faster than the winning time last year. My hip has felt fine leading up to this but I’ve not really done any speed work all year as that’s what hurts my hip most. I’ve been on the Keto journey for the year and feel that along with MAF training for the most part my body was ready. I’ve ran 2 bridge marathons and a 50K of pure bridge repeats as part of my training so I felt strong. With 2 of the winners from the last 3 years attending and almost half my age I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I felt this would probably be my last chance at winning this, the race is getting bigger each year and I’m getting older. My friend Cesar from our Clever Training Run & Triathlon Club volunteered to crew me, riding his mountain bike along the 46 mile course. My plan was to run through the aid stations to save time and just keep a nice pace going for the first 26 miles and then see what I had left. I had drinks, bars, salt caps, Gu’s and there are plenty of aid stations along the way. It was now up to me to execute on what I had envisioned for almost 12 months.

Running with race winner and his coach

The race started and I headed out at the front with Ed Souza, we ran together for the first couple of miles at an 8:05 pace. It was still dark, warm and very humid, more so than I can remember the previous years.  It was a little quicker than I wanted so I eased up a little and let him go, it’s a long race and usually the person leading at mile 18 isn’t the person that crosses the finish line first. Pretty soon “Magic Pat” Hrabos the winner from 2015 and his coach Dave Krupski caught up with me and we chatted and caught up on the last couple of years. The pace initially slowed to 8:15 but then we hit 3 miles at 8:05 coming in to the first aid station hosted by St Pete Running Company, where I normally stop in at my half way point on my Saturday long runs. I drank a couple of small cups of water and was back on the way with the other 2, closely followed by another 4 runners. As we were running up to the next aid station I could feel my lower quads a little heavy and knew it was going to be hard, the mileage and recent races were still inn my legs. We got to the Clever Training station at mile 13 still hitting 8:05’s, the leader was a couple of minutes ahead but we all thought he would crash and burn before the end so weren’t too concerned. I think we all felt we still had a shot at winning this. I had some pickles, 3 small ginger snaps and a drink of something and off we went. Pat leading the way and me and Dave trying to catch up but he started to pull away as our pace slowed to 8:25 and then Dave started falling off a little.

Many thanks to Cesar for crewing me and giving me encouragement along the race.

Along the way I started drinking some of my prepared Tailwind and grabbed a salt cap. The sun was now getting higher and the temperature had risen considerably, it was going to be a long day. At the next aid station at mile 18 I did take a little longer to drink something and then set out again. Mile 22 was the next stop and my pace now as just over a 9 minute pace. My legs were tired but I still felt ok and I think I grabbed a Gu before we got there. I start my race fasted, usually having a nice steak the night before, but I needed a little something. About a mile outside that aid station at mile 23 I felt my right hamstring started to cramp so I had to start walking a little before I started running again. Within another mile the cramping was back and I was walking again, with each occurrence the distance between walks got shorter and the walks a little longer. I made it to the Dunedin House of Beer aid station at mile 26 where I took a couple of minutes to try to sort out my cramping. Thomas Grinovich helped me while I use a stick on my legs and he stretched my calf out. I left there and the next mile was better but then the cramping came back, at one stage I had to stop and lean on something a my right calf completely locked up. I walked a little and ran some more, and repeated this. Cesar kept giving me encouragement and each time I walked he got of his bike and walked with me. At mile 30 Cesar rewarded himself with a donut, he deserved it as it had been a tough 7 miles coming into there and more to come. Ed had called it a day and was lay on the ground. For me I enjoyed a couple of ice pops, a pickle and something to drink. Another 3 miles of running and walking to the MollyDots aid station where Tracy and Sean Connolly gave me a nice cold shower and an electrolyte tablet as they could see I wasn’t having the best of races. Somewhere around here I was passed by Tuan Nguyen, last year’s winner and Jay Chancellor, I was surprised I hadn’t been passed earlier given the last several miles and was now wondering how many more would pass me. I saw Olen Dalton’s crew again, for about the 6th time, and was expecting him to pass me at any time. I asked them for a beer but they didn’t have any, I actually think I would have drank one at that time. I continued running heading to The Tarpon Tavern aid station where my wife Judy would meet me. I was now over 30 minutes behind my target pace so I knew she would be worried where I was and I wasn’t getting any faster.

As I approached Tarpon Tavern, the trail is in the middle of the road and the aid station off to the left. I was about 5 yards out and could see Judy as I went to cross the road when both my calf’s completely locked with cramp and my right hamstring and down to the ground slowly I went. Thomas who was now here came out to help me up and a couple of other people, but as they tried to move one leg the other leg would cramp even harder and I couldn’t move. As I lay there in pain in the middle of the road a police car had pulled up and asked if we needed an ambulance. I remember one of the volunteers saying no we’re okay he’s just cramping. Cars had to go round another way as I continued to lay there for a few more minutes before I was able to be helped up to a chair. I had a can of ginger beer, a couple of electrolyte tablets, a salt cap, some pickle juice and some Gatorade. I was sat for about 10 minutes total during which time Jeff Iosa came in, had a drink and left ahead of me now in 4th place. I had been in this place 2 years before, nowhere near as bad as today but I knew what I had to do. I got up, thanked the volunteers and set out running. Not knowing what the last miles were going to bring or how they would be, but I never thought about stopping, all I thought about was finishing.

I caught Cesar by surprise so he had to jump on his bike and catch me up, I’m sure both he and Judy thought this was the end of the race for me. Within a couple of miles I passed Jeff who was now walking with a sore knee. The first mile at 9:02, then 9:42, 9:47 and 9:28 but I wasn’t walking and was feeling ok. I came into the last aid station and spent 3 minutes talking to Kelly from our tri group and a couple of other volunteers. I got a couple of drinks down and off I went with the next 2 miles at a 9:39 pace. I crossed over Keystone Road and made the last turn on East Lake Road 4 miles down to the finish at John Chestnut Park. We had only been on the road for a minute when Cesar told me there was someone a block and a half behind me. I turned and sure enough Jeff Iosa had recovered and was now chasing me down to claim 4th spot. I wasn’t ready to give it up that easy and knew I had to pick up my pace. I was unsure if my legs would hold up to anything quicker, would it trigger the cramps again, I didn’t know but I sped up. About a half mile later I checked my watch and I was running around 9:05 but Jeff was still the same distance behind, he was chasing me hard and wanted 4th. I kicked harder and when my watched beeped at the mile mark it was down to an 8:55 pace.

I asked Cesar if he was still there and he said yes, about the same distance back. For some strange reason after running 43 miles I had this energy within me and the determination to gut it out, I wasn’t going down without giving everything I had. I dug deeper and pushed harder and my next mile sped past at an 8:40 pace, by this time I had managed to put a little more distance between Jeff and I. But I wasn’t going to ease up and give him any hope, I decided to push harder, drinking some energy drink Cesar picked up about a mile back. I was beginning to feel good, now enjoying the race almost forgetting the 13 miles of pain and suffering in the middle. Now I wasn’t just putting distance between me and Jeff, I was now wondering if I could catch up Jay and reclaim third. When he passed me, he wasn’t having the best of time, in fact I passed him a short while after only for him to pass again a couple of minutes later when I was walking. I was hoping he was struggling and was looking for him ahead of me. I clocked a 8:21 45th mile but with no sign of Jay I knew 4th was mine if I didn’t stop. I maintained my speed and finished the race averaging 8:18 for the final mile.

Although I was happy to cross the finish line and receive my PTC car sticker, proud of my finish, I was deeply disappointed. This was the race I wanted to win so badly, trained so hard for, sweated pounds out each weekend running to 1 pm, and finished 4th with my worst time. I remembered apologizing to Michael Stork, the race director, I ad told him the year before I was going to try to win it. I waited a couple of minutes and Jeff finished and we had a photo as we talked about the final stretch push. My body felt good, the best it had, and not what you expect after running 46 miles in the heat. As the other runners finished, everyone had been having a hard time, the humidity at the beginning, the sun and the heat had worn on everyone and people were being sick or also cramping.

Many thanks to Cesar for crewing me the entire distance and for providing me with positive energy as the race progressed, and of course to Judy for putting up with all the time I’m on the road training. I always feel positive about my accomplishments, running with a total hip replacement and beating some great young runners. My goal is to encourage everyone to not set boundaries of what is expected of you, set your own goals, train hard, have fun and run.

As I reflect on the race after a couple of weeks, I think my downfall was all my own doing. I raced to hard at the 6 hour race, but enjoyed every minute of it. I ran too often and to far in England, but got to see so many areas I had never see within a few miles of where I lived. And lastly, I didn’t execute my nutrition plan. The 6 hour race was easier, every loop grab another 16 ounce handheld full of Tailwind and drink it, here it’s harder. I’m still learning and have a lot to learn, but this was a good teaching moment. I will take a lot away from this as I now prepare to more than double my longest ever distance with the Long Haul 100 miler in January.

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