After the Pinellas Trail Challenge 3 weeks ago and my legs cramping and feeling heavy, I thought I would cancel this race but just like every time, a few days later we’ve forgot all the pain and we’re ready to go. So I trained less in the 3 weeks leading up to this, and apart from doing 500 squats in 15 minutes without stopping the Monday before, I was as ready as I could be. This race would bring my race mileage close to 190 miles in 10 weeks, definitely pushing the limits for an amateur athlete, let alone one at 59 years old with a hip replacement.
I drove Jiri from our Clever Training run club up to the race in the morning and when we got out of the car the temperature was cool, unfortunately that wouldn’t last long. We lined up and at 7 Justin started the race with about 150 people running either the 6 hour or 12 hour event of 2.85 mile loops around Lake Hollingsworth in Lakeland, Florida. I started off easy, my plan was a 9 minute mile but I found it hard to follow that and was closer to 8:45. Initially 4 people were ahead of me, 2 of which I would pass after a couple of laps and the other 2 were in the 6 hour race.
I started the race fasted, having my usually steak dinner the night before. The first 2 laps I ran without and fluids and then I picked up my handheld with Tailwind that would see me the next 2 laps. I then grabbed a sports bar, had some water and grabbed my next handheld. By the end of the 5th lap the sun was up, the temperature was rising, and there was a breeze but when running with it, it felt warm and I drank the 20 oz by the time I came in for the 6th lap. I grabbed my cap and sunglasses and headed out again, by now my legs started to feel a little heavy and my pace slowed to the low 9’s. I completed lap 7 around 20 miles in less than 3 hours, I felt confident I could run 72 miles for the 12 hours and set a new male course record.
2 laps later my legs felt really heavy and I started to get some cramps. My goal was to run the first 36 miles before I had to start my run/walk but by mile 28 this was out of the window and I had to walk to avoid my cramps getting worse. My pace had slowed to a mid-10 minute pace and when I came into the aid station at mile 34 I spent several minutes icing down and drinking some water. I thought about switching down to the 6 hour race and heading home early, at that time I think I was in first place for both races but didn’t see Jiri so I decided to keep going. I grabbed a Hot Shot, I had used one a couple of years earlier when I was cramping but it didn’t help too much but I had nothing to lose. The Best Before Date was April 2017, but desperate times call for desperate measures and I chugged it down and headed out again. My run 14 minutes, walk 1 minute had now changed to run 13 walk 2 and that was a struggle. Another long break after lap 14 at mile 40 as I tried to fight the fatigue I headed out and had several longer walk breaks.
2 laps later I was exhausted, my legs still lightly cramping, my entire body aching and my brain questioning why I was doing this. Clearly too much racing and almost no downtime in the last couple of years and my body was breaking down. I was about 3/4 of a mile from the aid station and I decided I had to walk in to try to get over this. I got my jug of water out of the cooler, my box of ginger snaps and sat in Jiri’s chair munching the snaps and chugging water. 8 Hours into the race, 46 miles and I was done, I wanted to quit so badly, call it a day and go home. If Jiri was there I would have asked him how he felt and suggested we call it a day, I was at an all time low. I’ve had cramping before but never thought about quitting, it was always just get through this and start again but now I was done and wanted to end this pain. I looked to my left and saw Jiri about 20 yards away from me. For some strange reason my brain kicked in and I decided I had to getup and leave before he reached me, if I had spoken to him I knew I would have quit. I wasn’t sure if I was still leading the race and I think that was probably why I decided to see if I could keep going, those 7 minutes sat on the cooler felt so good but I didn’t feel much better. I got up and started jogging but every step was difficult, slow and painful.
Towards the end of the next lap as I was jogging another runner came up on me and asked what was going on today, I told him it was a 12 hour race and I was coming up to 50 miles with 3 hours to go. He wished my good luck and carried on. The next 5 miles went so slow, I kept thinking about when he passed me and an hour had passed and I still didn’t feel any better. Around this time Tyler passed me, I wasn’t sure if he was now first or if he was now lapping me, I’m not sure what occurred as I sat on my cooler. We chatted for a few minutes before I needed another walk break and then he continued and out of my sight. 55 miles into the race as I hit the 10 hour mark and now my only goal was hitting 62.5 miles, I knew I had no chance of completing another lap, why push myself as I was still in pain and still taking regular walk breaks. But as I came in to finish lap 20 I had 1 hour 44 minutes remaining of the race. I had been averaging over 40 minutes per lap including my break time at the aid station and knew I had to run sub 35 minute laps to get to 65 miles. There was no way this was going to happen but I decided I had 2 laps left and I would push as hard as I could without walk breaks to see if I could get over the finish line ahead of anyone else that was attempting another lap to secure my place.
I decided I wasn’t going to stop to get anymore snacks and I would just rely on the aid station to swap out my handheld in an attempt to see if a third lap was possible, but I think I had come to settle that 62.5 miles was the best I could achieve and I was happy with that. I set out still struggling but determined to do my best, a spectator that had been providing encouraging words to me each lap wished me luck and said “you’ve got this”. Between random strangers, a woman with a cow bell, the person in the last tent, all these words really help to motivate you to try your best and I told him 2 more laps. I got about a mile into the lap before I had to take a short walk break, I was still struggling physically and mentally. I thought back to the Pinellas Trail Challenge and how for the last 10 miles I just put one foot in front of another, determined to keep going and see if I could hold off another person passing me. My competitive nature kicking in and driving me forward.
That loop was 11:37, 12:16 and 10:27, not good enough to get another lap in. I left my handheld in my cooler, chugged half a bottle of Gatorade and left picking up my refill from Siri whom had taken over from the wonderful Barbara swapping out my handheld as I told her this was my last lap. Tyler was there and I set off in front of him, still not sure if he was on the same lap or not, he had told me he was going for 2 laps so I thought if I can push it for 1 last lap and complete it ahead of him, maybe he wouldn’t finish the last lap I would be in front. I was pretty sure he was 1 lap ahead but just in case I was wrong I pushed strong.
Somehow my legs found energy and I picked up the pace without having to stop and I completed the next mile in 10:34. Tyler wasn’t in sight and for the first time in a while I was passing other runners and I was feeling better. I ran the next mile in 9:56 and the next in 9:47. Somehow I went from questioning if I had enough time to having 44 minutes to complete the last lap, I could almost walk and do that. I dug even harder, I was told I was in 4th position and the other master (40+) was close by me on the previous lap so I was determined to not to let that slip. I grabbed the rest of my Gatorade as the girls didn’t have a handheld and I ran out as fast as I could as I could.
I felt strong and although breathing heavy I was motivated, I wasn’t going to tie or break the course record but compared to where I was 2 hours earlier I felt satisfied if I could achieve 65.7 miles, having been so low this would be a victory. I passed many others on that last lap, including the guy that had been in front of me at the start of the race who was now being helped by his girlfriend to finish a lap as I shouted some words of encouragement to him. The ultra-community is a special one, everyone is so friendly and encouraging offering positive words as you pass them. My last 3 miles were 9:16, 8:49 and 7:47 as I sprinted in to the finish for probably my fastest lap of the day. As I passed Jiri who was sitting on the cooler as he had finished, he shouted “slow down” but I wasn’t going to, I felt great.
I crossed the finish line in 11 hours, 40 minutes, 36 seconds completing 65.7 miles for 3rd place overall. Tyler had finished about a mile ahead of me but Becca was still out on the course completing her last lap to finish at 71 miles ahead of us. I had given it everything, I had faced lows, I had pain, I struggled in the heat, I fought my cramping, but at the end I came out victorious and felt rewarded. Had I quit I would have felt awful, but now I was on a high, I finished strong and was awarded the Masters Medal. Justin and Jill put on a great race and I was able to spend time talking to many friends during the race. Now it’s time to rest next week, go on vacation the week after and enjoy 2-3 weeks without any running to let my body recover for whatever the winter season is going to throw at me.
Odd thoughts after the race, I probably drank over 500 ounces of fluids during the race but only had to pee once and didn’t pee again until about 10pm. I burnt about 6,000 calories during the race but didn’t feel hungry and couldn’t eat anything after the race.