Looking back 8 years ago when I had my hip replacement, I started running to lose some weight. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would run a marathon, let alone a 100 mile race. Yet here I am after completing the most challenging run ever and the good news is that my hip wasn’t even a factor.
5 weeks ago I was planned to run 40 miles on the course, when I had to stop after 26 miles due to a pain in my shin. I had raced a 10K the day before and my hip was a little sore, and I thought this was causing me to over compensate that day. I decided to rest as I was planning back to back long runs the following weekend, including one of my famous bridge repeats, 42 times up and down the Belleair Bridge. However during the week the pain got worse with just light walking and I was now convinced a had a stress fracture. I went to see William Cottrell, a doctor runner who was recommended, my x-ray showed nothing so a couple of days before the new year I had an MRI and got the results back on the 3rd, no stress fracture but the doctor recommended I didn’t run the race. 3 weeks with no running and only 2 weeks to the race, I also wasn’t sure. My confidence had been sapped, I felt under-trained, and my mind was having difficulties with the challenge. A couple of friends in Facebook Messenger (Kim Vandercook & Stephanie Miller) encouraged me to do it, but it wasn’t until I saw Andy’s post that 6 people had dropped out due to injury that I committed to it. I knew Andy and Amy had worked so hard putting this together with the hope of it being a Western States qualifier, and I also knew many people had signed up to help support that, I even had thoughts about running the WS myself if I won the lottery. Knowing it could come down to the wire I texted Andy to say I was in, reversing my previous message before Christmas offering my place to someone on the waiting list.
My other challenge was that with it being Christmas and New Year and fearing the worse, I had put my Keto lifestyle to one side and had eaten more than I should, including a lot of carbs, and also enjoyed a few drinks. I was 15 pounds over my race weight with 15 days to go. Somehow now I had to get a couple of serious runs in when I should be tapering. Friday morning I went out and did a 8.5 mile run at an 8:30 pace to see how my shin would hold up, and it did. Saturday I managed to run 17 miles of bridge repeats with 23 climbs before going for a massage and Sunday I ran a half marathon at a 2 hour pace. Surprisingly my legs felt okay, a little heavy and stiff, but no sharp pain. Along with the weight, I now had my second cold in a month since straying from Keto and my chest was all congested. What else could go wrong, my motivation and belief still dipping I started to taper. The good news was I was able to drop 11 pounds so came in close to my race weight.
I got up early race day and drove about 75 minutes to Land O’Lakes getting there an hour early. It was great to see a lot of familiar faces, many from the Pinellas Trail Challenge over the last 4 years. The weather was a little cooler so I kept track suit bottoms on and a hoodie until about 5 minutes before the start. I had bought a pair of DryMax Maximum Protection Socks for $30, yes more than I want to pay but if they were going to help save my feet worth every penny. I run all my races in DryMax socks and so far they haven’t let me down. I wear black compression shorts to help the muscles around my hip, but more importantly I find they minimize chafing especially if you coat your private area with some Body Glide. I had my Nike “Just Shut Up and Run” singlet on to start with and a pair of On-Running CloudFlow shoes. I do I didn’t go into this race with any specific plan, I had a lot of suggestions to go slow and eat lots early on, not to get behind on nutrition. They both sounded like good pieces of advice so I was probably going to follow it as best as I could. At the training Luis Gomez was telling me about the importance of pacers and a crew and I was thinking of looking for support, but with the injury I never got round to it so hear I was, screwed, crewless and clueless is how I thought of it. I had a cooler with pre-made Tailwind, 5 Amphipod hand held hydration bottles also with Tailwind, ice packs to keep things cool and then bags with various gels, snacks and 5 mini blueberry muffins. I also had a bag with 2 changes of shoes and various other clothing changes depending how the day went. Jeff Iosa volunteered one of his crew team to pick up my stuff from the drop zone and set them up for me at their tent area.
7am came and Andy got the race off on time, I started my Garmin 645 and started jogging. I let the front pack go, normally I would be up there with them but lacking some belief in myself was happy to just start at an easy pace. I kept looking at my watch to make sure it wasn’t too fast and set in at a comfortable 9 – 9:30 pace. Along the first section I was running just ahead of a man and women talking, the man was running he 89th 100+ mile ultra including several Badwater’s, and hear was I attempting my first. I didn’t carry a handheld as I didn’t think I would need it the first section, but wasn’t sure how long that was. It ended up being the long one so probably would have been better taking one with me as the bags didn’t show up until I completed the next 4 mile section. I’m usually pretty good at knowing a mile distance, but for some reason today every mile seemed to take forever, I couldn’t believe how long each mile felt and it was probably going to get longer as the race went on.
The long loop started with a very runnable section, then make a right and run by the Gator sign and then a small lollipop loop with an aid station and then back. That loop was a little gnarly and you had to watch your feet, with rain due in the evening I knew that could become a mess.
On the way back you could at least start to see some runners and I started chatting to Robert Plante as Justin Radley was heading out and he snapped a picture of us. It was also his first and we both hoped to come in around 20 hours, we ran together until I had to stop and do a potty run at the end of the first loop, I guess nerves had got to me a little. I saw Patrick Bene as I left for the next section and he was shouting encouragement to me.
This middle section was about 4 miles in length, along a small section of pavement before heading into the woods and through the Hall of Pines leading to the unmanned aid station, manned by Susan Anger, Sean Connolly and Christian Stewart. It was good to hear familiar friendly faces giving words of encouragement. I grabbed some water and tailwind and then headed back towards tent city where most crew teams had setup near the main aid station and the timing mat. Just before you got there to had to make another small lollipop loop of about 2 miles with a circle at the top end with the most gnarly bit of the trail along the Armadillo Alley and then back to the start. I stopped of at the aid station, grabbed what I needed then on to the timing matt for the first time. Stopping again 100 yards past that to then get my handheld and my cap.
The sun had come up by then and so had the temperature, probably climbing into the low 80’s for much of the remainder of the day with not a lot of cover, or at least it didn’t feel like it did. I’m usually fairly positive on my runs and try not to thing of anything, but today my mind was going to challenge me. The miles all felt long and I started to drift into negative thoughts. I wasn’t looking forward to running alone in the dark and I knew by now I would never run WS in the dark, alone on a course I don’t know. I’m never going to do another 100 was my mantra for the next couple of loops and I hate eating and drinking as much as I was. I wasn’t in any physical pain but my mindset wasn’t where it should have been. I think what helped me get through the early sections was seeing so many friends and exchanging words of encouragement with them. Daniel Bellingham a fellow Brit that I’ve raced the PTC a couple of times always had a friendly comment for me, it was great to see him after a couple of years. Jeff and Luis were just a little behind me and we encouraged each other. Dave Krupski, Thomas Grinovich, Renee Monique, Bruce Werner, Thune Tran, Bernadette Dubois and Melinda Hooper were also other familiar faces helping the miles go easier, along with many others I didn’t know also sharing words of encouragement. Lucien Boulet, aka Hot Chocolate that I know from the iRun group down in Miami, also kept telling me I was looking strong and killing it.
As I started the third loop I set myself a goal to complete this loop before I started walking, normally by mile 30 I’ve introduced some short walking breaks into my run. Somewhere on this loop I saw Lance Pearce, also a PTC competitor I hadn’t seen for a couple of years as he had moved to Colorado and by the fourth loop he caught up to me near the Alligator log. We ran together for a few minutes and chatted, I think this was his 8th 100 and he was hoping to break his PR with a sub-22, at this time I still had a sub-20 in my mind so I thought he would crush it as he was running strong and eventually pulled away from me.
I was then passed by Keith Straw, the guy that had ran 89 100’s and he joined Lance ahead. I would eventually meet up with Keith at AS3 on that loop, he was pulling out and said he had to leave before Dave. I guess Lance had been giving him a rundown of my PTC runs. I caught up with Keith just a little further down and we chatted, he said he knew I was fast on the shorter 50 milers and I was looking good and that I should come in around 22 hours. He’s also from England but now lives in Pennsylvania somewhere. We chatted about my recent 12 hour race (Justin’s Save the Daylight) in November where I set a course record 69.3 miles and he was saying that was great and not easy to do. He also told me about someone he runs with that just turned 70 and ran a world record sub 3 hour marathon, so there’s still hope for us if we can train hard and specific. We probably ran for a couple of miles before he walked the gnarly section of Armadillo Alley. It helped build a little confidence that I was still close to some really talented runners almost half way into the race. I still hadn’t walked and only stopped at aid stations and now set a goal of 5 loops before I started walking.
4 loops completed, 50.5 miles in 8:50, I still believed I had a sub 20 hour run in me. It was almost 4pm, the sun was still hot and my body was sweating and I could feel my back burning a little from the sun. I started the long section down to AS2 and by now there was a volunteer there hooting and hollering to every runner. I don’t know how he managed it as he was still doing the same several hours later. The aid station there had transformed during the day. On my first visit I asked the volunteer, CB Pops, how long he was going to be there, he replied to the end, I wasn’t sure if he was serious at that time. He said he’ll have bacon ready for me tomorrow morning but I told him I’ll be finished by then. He was cheerful and I left, I got about 25 yards and realized I hadn’t said thank you so I stopped, turned and thanked them for volunteering. Little did I know at that time they had setup the station the night before with a tent and all the food supplies and someone overnight had stolen everything. Somehow by the time we got there on the first loop they had enough setup that you wouldn’t know and as the day went on the station got bigger and had a nice enclosed tent. All the more power to them for not projecting their negative experience, digging deep and getting it done to help serve us. God bless these volunteers.
During the 5th loop I got my USB portable charger from my bag, took my watch off and connected it and ran to AS3 and back to get it to 100%. If I was running a 100 miler, I wanted to make sure my Garmin recorded it. By the time I got back to tent city I had to stop and get my head lights, I put on a bright orange shirt, got a salt cap and a blueberry bagel as I headed out. The bagel was so hard to eat, by now my mouth was just so dry every bite felt like it took forever to swallow and I needed to wash it down with some Tailwind. By the time I completed that section darkness was upon us and I knew this would get tougher. I’ve never really ran in the dark and this was only my 4th trail run, I wasn’t looking forward to what lay ahead. I completed the last lollipop section, across the finish mat to complete the 5th loop and stopped at AS3. Peggy Hipp was volunteering there now and gave me a cup of Chicken Broth, it sounded good and it’s what I wanted at that time. I decided to walk for the first time and enjoy the broth and eventually gave my cup to the last tent occupants as I headed down the long section. My thoughts were now on how I hate running in the dark, and now it was so much harder to see who was running. My light was pointing down as was my glance so people were almost past me before I saw them. I do remember seeing Dan, Luis and Jeff on this loop. I could feel blisters along the top of my toes on both feet, but I didn’t want to change shoes or socks as I knew the sight of my feet would have compounded my negative feelings. I remember hitting the 65 mile mark in just over 12 hours, just 4 miles short of the distance on my 12 hour race and that boosted my moral a little. Somewhere on the way back on this section I took my first fall, luckily the ground was soft so no damage. Some time after this it started to pour down and it got cold, many people had put on rain gear ahead of this. I knew it was going to rain but I guess I never really thought about it and my only option was to change clothes but that seemed pointless as it would just get wet. A couple of guys said I was a bad ass for my running, and then shouted even more of a bad ass for running in just a singlet. I was cold but I just had to press on, at times visibility was very poor with the intensity of the rain. When I reach AS3 it started to really throw it down so I did wait a few minutes for it to subside a little and took the time to take a couple more electrolyte tablets. By this time Sean had gone home, Susan was taking a break and Christian was looking after the shop. When it eased I made my way to the porta-potty which was occupied so had to wait a few minutes. I think while I was in there Luis passed me, he was looking strong the last time I saw him and I had taken 10 minutes overall at this station.
The course was now getting really wet and slippery in some sections and I walked the most gnarly parts as I didn’t want to fall. My ankles had already partially rolled a few times and I could feel them swelling. I tried to keep my walks to a minimum and kept running. I had just completed 68 miles and at my current pace which had slowed to near 15 minutes with the walk breaks, I calculated that the remaining 32 miles could take me 8 hours. That thought really sat heavy with me for many miles, that would now push me closer to 22 hours and I realized that my 20 hour goal was no longer achievable. Keith and I had exchanged places a few times, he was much more efficient navigating the aid stations where I lost time. Strava had me being stationery for an hour over the course of the race, probably not too bad but I feel I could save some time there. I could see that a few people were also struggling, I was getting a little closer to Daniel as he had slipped behind the leaders, I had passed Patrick Gallagher and Kevin Leiferman who were both among the top 5 for the first 3-4 loops. Eddie Souza was looking stronger than at the beginning and had now lapped me. I wasn’t sure how many people were ahead of me or passed me. It felt like several runner had picked up pacers and they were moving quickly, but I had no idea what lap they were on. All I knew was I just needed to keep putting one foot of the other and try to minimize my walking. The rain had eased and my clothes were now starting to dry, but that didn’t last long and another heavy downpour occurred making me cold and wet again. I saw Barbara Gay Neel at AS3 and she always make you feel happier, and so with another hot chicken broth off I went again to start lap 7.
I set myself a goal of sub 21, a 20 hours 59 minutes would still feel like a victory and be within my target of 20 hours. I didn’t push too hard and surprisingly my heart rate for the last 2 laps with very little walking actually didn’t go much over 125. I felt like I could keep running at just under a 13 minute pace with a short walk every now and again to reach this goal. This was probably the first time I had a positive mindset, I didn’t want to be passed by anyone else and I wanted to see if I could pass Keith and catch up to Daniel. At some stage I had grabbed a Kind Bar from my cooler and I started to eat it, it was a Roasted Jalapeno bar, not what I recommend eating late into a race but I still did. I did have my next to last 2 Science in Sport Go Energy Gel to help take the taste away. Having that goal really helped me focus my mind and keep on target, my legs were tired, my blisters sore but I kept going. The underside of my feet were great, the DryMax socks worked perfectly with no signs of any blisters there. I think my feet swelled and with my wide feet my toes were rubbing against each other and my toes banged against the top of my shoes, probably resulting in 2 or 3 lost toe nails to come.
I saw Luis who was now ahead of me, still running strong running with a pacer. I had passed Keith but still expected him to catch me again, and I was still gaining ground on Daniel. Jeff, Lance & Lucien were all moving well but I knew were a couple of hours behind me. I remember thinking early on in the race that the really strong runners are not those at the front of the pack, rather it’s those at the back. Knowing that they are going to be out there 26, 28 or even 32 hours, running through the entire night and into the mid-day again. I admire their strength and congratulate them for their perseverance, they are the true heroes of the race. I also saw Kim Vandercook on the course, she had messaged me before the race asking about my stress fracture and said she probably wasn’t running as she also had one, however here she was walking the course. I know she didn’t complete it, not sure if it was the weather or her leg but she still completed 65 miles. I know others dropped out for various reasons, I’m grateful that I was able to complete it and didn’t have any real issues that slowed some runners down.
The last 2 laps went pretty well for me, now focused I knew what pace I had to maintain and I kept moving. I took one hard fall on the small lollipop loop but ended up just falling in the mud. I was lucky as I tripped on roots or rocks at least half a dozen times, including the gator log with the sign, and somehow managed to avoid hitting the deck. My energy level was steady, legs tired but not hurting and the end was in sight. I ran through both gnarly bits slowly on the last lap, I didn’t want to miss my goal and I also didn’t want to get injured, luckily I got through both. I was glad to see the end of the long loop for the last time, I don’t know why it just felt so long and went on forever. I was also pleased that I didn’t have any cramping in my legs except a slight tightness when I tried to bend down to remove a rock from the sole of my shoe but luckily it was at tent city and I asked someone to do it for me. Usually I suffer a lot from cramping and have lost races because of it, I guess that’s why I forced myself to eat so much food, drink way more than I normally would and have quite a few electrolyte tablets, although I only took about 6 salt caps. I follow a Keto lifestyle so a lot of this is not what I would normally eat but you have to do what you need to fuel your body.
As I approached the final section I knew I would finish in 20 hours and something and really felt a sense of accomplishment for my first 100 miler, I crossed the finish line in 20 hours, 49 minutes and 3 seconds. Even though this had been a tough race for me mentally, I never ever thought about quitting at any point, it didn’t cross my mind. I felt much better than I thought I would do, except for my blisters I was in pretty good shape. I thanked the volunteers at AS1 and grabbed some of Michael’s home made brownies and cookies, I later learned that he was taken to the hospital as he had been there the entire time taking care of everyone and probably forgot to look after himself as much as he should. Thanks to Patrick Gallagher for starting a fund raiser to help CB Pops and Michael Davis, we appreciate all they do for us and it was great to be able to give back a little to them. I thanked Andy Croom and Amy Mathews for putting on a great race, unfortunately I didn’t have my camera to get a picture with Andy handing me my well-deserved buckle. I sat down with Luis and some of his friends and someone gave us a bottle of Champagne, so we toasted our 2 Top 10 finishers and a huge PR for Luis as we waited for Jeff to complete his last loop. However running in the cold had lowered my body temperature and I was shivering so had to call it a day and went to the car to warm up and try to sleep for an hour. My wife Judy was in England so I called her after the race and told her to never let me sign up for another 100, however now a few days later I’m thinking I could be persuaded but would probably want a crew next time to help me during the night. The sub 20 hour goal may just be enough to see me back here, only time will tell. We ended up having 118 finishers of the race so we look forward to hearing back if next years event will be a Western States Qualifier. Should I return to see if I could win the lottery and the race of a lifetime.
Thanks to Bernadette Dubois, Melinda Hooper and Hot Chocolate for the photos.