Yes we do crazy things here in the heat and humidity in the peak of Florida’s summer, we run around a 3 mile loop as many times as we can in 6 hours. This race was my first ultra back in 2015 after reading Born to Run (Chris McDougal) and Eat & Run (Scott Jurek) inspired me to see what I could achieve. After running my first marathon in 2013 and being injured for a year after that with my hip, it’s crazy to think I would try this, but now I love it and I have no issues with my hip. It’s a free race and usually attracts about a hundred runners and I’ve been lucky enough to finish second in my first attempt and win in 2017 and 2018 setting and improving the course record on those attempts. So I always feel there’s pressure on me to come and do my best and compete against some strong young talent. 4 weeks earlier I won the first in the Summer Slam Series of 3 ultras, and my training had been going well so I was optimistic heading into this race.
There was another strong field at the event this year of which anyone of these could win, Michael, Jason, Greg, Luis who normally participate with an average age in the early 30’s. Bruce who had come up from the Miami area, he came second in the Long Haul 100 and also did well in the Antelope 100. Andy, 25, who had recently joined the Clever Training run group that I run with, had ran a few ultra’s and was a sponsored Spartan athlete. The group fancied his chances against me, less than half my age and in good shape but would the distance and heat be too much for him. Then there were a couple of other young faces I didn’t know that looked like they came out to run a tough race. The race started at 6:30am with high humidity and Michael immediately set of at a fast pace running a sub 8 minute mile and started to pull away from the chasing pack. I let him go as I didn’t think I could keep that pace. Although I run these ultras without any hip issues, if I incorporate any serious speed work I immediately feel hip pain and it takes several days to recover. So occasionally I put in a quicker mile, but it’s nothing like the pace I used to be able to run 5K’s a few years ago. I’ve come to terms with that and happy to lose some speed to have consistency and to be able to race.
I kept in sight of Michael as we completed the first two 3 miles laps and by the time I came in to grab a new hand held, Michael was just leaving. So I quickly left and chased him down and caught him up by the first turn. I expected we would run a lap or two together as we had done in Orlando 4 weeks earlier, but to my surprise I passed him and he let me go. Now it was me running sub 8 minute miles for the next 6 miles as I put a little distance in between me and the chasing pack. Each time I came into the finish area I grabbed what I needed and left as quickly as possible, knowing that spending too much time would give the other the incentive to catch me just as I did with Michael. At the half way point in the loop you start to come back and could see runners before you cut along the road rather than the water back to the start line. I was now 5 loops into the race and by the time I reached this cutoff point there was still about 6 people in the pack that I would see before the split, which was a maximum of a 2 minute cushion to the last in the lead pack. I knew I would have to be strong to the end as this was going to be a close race.
My pace slowed int the 8th lap to around 8:35 and the next lap around 8:55, however by the split this time I didn’t see any of the lead runners. I was tired, my legs felt heavy and I was concerned about pushing too hard and cramping. So each time I went through the finish area I took an extra 30 seconds or so, took an extra drink of water, ate a pickle and put a cloth in ice water and then over my head to help cool me down. The weather was back into the low 90’s at this time but luckily a rain shower had just passed through and cooled everyone down to give us some relief. I think that helped me and I was able to keep my pace in the low 9’s.
I had looked at my watch after 11 laps, 33 miles, and was trying to calculate if I could get a 14th loop in to break my course record from the year earlier. Unfortunately I calculated that I could only do this if I picked up the pace a little and didn’t stop to grab refreshments the next time I ran through the finish area. With the Pinellas Trail Challenge race in 3 weeks’ time I decided to save my legs and maintain the pace, hope I didn’t cramp, win the race and tie my course record to hold the top 3 distances in this race.
With another light shower along the way I continued to push my body and try to ignore the tiredness in my legs to complete the 13th lap and 39 miles in 5 hours, 38 minutes and 7 seconds 4 ½ minutes quicker than last year with an average pace of 8:47 including stops. I would have needed about 5 minutes more to go out to complete the additional lap, but I felt good, I won the race and I lapped everyone except Luis.
I felt great, no hip pain, no post race cramping and I was able to go out to the mini pub crawl to celebrate with the other runners. That’s a great part of ultra running, meeting new people and hanging out with them. It’s like a family gathering rather than a race with everyone cheering you on as you pass them. Yes it’s great to win, but it’s great seeing everyone out there and competing. I love the loop structure as you get to see more people and know where you are. Now it will be just 3 weeks to the next race, can I recover in time, can I avoid cramping. For now I’m enjoying a beer with friends and will start to prepare myself next week. I feel confident after just over 2 years following Keto, my recovery time is a lot less and I feel so much more comfortable after a race. I’ve also been training smarter following somewhat of a MAF approach over the last year as well, and listened to my body and just ran easy rather than pushing through any pain. If you set your sights on a goal, anything is possible. Don’t let your hip replacement dictate what you can accomplish, if you put your mind to it anything is possible.