Summer in Florida with temperatures in the 90’s and feels like over 100, who would consider running ultras in this heat. Welcome to the Summer Slam Series, 3 races that take place 3 to 4 weeks each with unique challenges.
First up was the Lake Baldwin 50K in Orlando, 10 loops of a 2.5 mile loop around the lake on a tarmac path for a total of 32.5 miles. Going into this race I hadn’t trained as much as I wanted, after running the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee, I took a 9 day break on my vacation but fell while fishing running to grab a rod with a Snook on it. My first run back I could feel my knee that I landed hard on and it then effected my hip, I think I jarred it on the impact. For the next couple of weeks every run felt off and I wasn’t planting my left leg firmly. About a week before the race it started to feel better. The race starts at 8:30 in the morning, so it is already very hot with minimal shade on the course, but at least every loop you can stop and refuel before heading out again. A strong group of 5 runners kept together for the first 3 laps (me, Andy, Jeff, Bruce and Jason) setting a good pace, with Luis starting in a later wave, any of which could win the race. I fell a little behind from the water stop and had to catch the group back up, when I did I pushed the pace a little but was caught again by the time we entered the aid station area again. Jeff ran through and had a nice lead with Andy next and me third. I caught Andy at the end of the next loop and was now chasing down Jeff. I caught him about a half mile before the end of loop 6 and was now in first place, a lead I would not give up. It got real hot with a feel like over 100 degrees and that started having an impact on all the runners. I forgot to take any salt caps to the end of loop 9 and on loop 12 my right hamstring started to cramp. I managed to run through it completing the 13 laps in 4:56:10 for the overall win, my third win in three attempts at this race. Apart from the cramping I felt great during the race and only felt my hip twinge slightly a couple fo times, but nothing to worry about.
With 3 weeks to the next race, the 6 Hour Durrty Beer Race in St Petersburg, it’s hard to know how to train best for this. Wisdom would suggest a weeks recovery after a hard race, then some training before having to taper. Well the day after the race I did our local triathlon, a 13 mile bike ride on my ElliptiGo bike, a 5k run and a half mile open water swim. The next day I did take off and then I ran every day up to the day before the race. The first weekend I ran 18 miles of bridge repeats while fasted and not drinking any water or fluids, I don’t recommend this for anyone but I often train fasted and don’t usually take fluids until 9 miles in. I wanted to see how my body felt and I was surprised it felt good, running the last bridge mile in 7:42. The following day I ran 17 miles fasted but did take some water breaks, training with my friends Ray and David. The mid week runs were all 5 to 9 miles in distance and easy and the following weekend I ran a half and then another tri, before dropping my mileage going into my taper week. I wondered if I had trained to hard and if I would have been better served resting, but I felt good and I enjoy running so that’s what I did. I knew this race would be hard and competitive, and that several people would be out to beat me. The night before the race I had my usual pre race dinner of a Ribeye Steak, Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Cheese, hey it works for me so why change it. I had been doing a lot of yard work the previous week but took the final 2 days off as all the bending was wearing on my back. I always look forward to this race as it was my first ultra back in 2015 when I finished second, and apart from 2017 when I was injured I’ve won the race setting new course records each year.
This year the course was slightly modified as the new pier had recently opened and we were going to run on it and around the top, changing the loop from 3 miles to 3.6 miles. To break the course record this year would require 11 loops for a total of 39.6 miles, to beat my current 39 mile record. I knew it would be hard and expected others to also be challenging me and the record, I felt pretty good and would just have to see how the day went. Sean and Tracy put on a good race and this year was no exception, lining up at the beginning there was anyone of 9 people that could take the win. My friend Andy who also lives in Indian Rocks Beach and trains with Clever Training has been trying to beat me since he moved here, Jeff and Luis always challenge me in these races, Michael, Jason and Greg from Clearwater are all fast, and Ben and Chris are also strong competitors. The race started at 6am as I headed out at the front before Jason took over and was running around an 8 minute pace. There was a group of 5 or 6 of us with a small pack just a few yards behind. As we cam around the pier around mile 2 Andy pulled away and was running a 7:30 pace. I knew he was going to go out strong and get some miles in before the sun came up and the heat increased, but the humidity was already high. I has happy enough to let him go and keep him in sight and kept the group around an 8 minute pace, although we did drop down to 7:53 for the fourth mile. I didn’t stop at my cooler and ran through, although some of the others had handhelds and gu’s in their pocket, I felt comfortable waiting until mile 7 before I started taking anything. At the end of loop 2 just over 7 miles I gulped some water and grabbed a small handheld with Tailwind in it and headed out again, by this time I couldn’t see Andy but knew he could only be a couple of minutes ahead at the most, we still had a small pack as we chased him down. I don’t think I had been this far behind a runner in this race but wasn’t prepared to alter my race plan and kept to around an 8 minute pace, which was probably about 15 seconds faster than I had originally planned. 6 hours is a long time and the race doesn’t really start until around loop 7 so there was plenty of time ahead.
I think it was around the end of loop 4, 14 miles by the time we caught Andy at his cooler. I stopped at mine and all of a sudden Michael came running past, I hadn’t seen him so wasn’t even sure where he was, I assumed he had the lead but he caught me off guard. He was now a couple of hundred yards ahead, Andy about half way in between and then me, with a few other close behind. I closed Andy down on this loop and passed him shortly before the end and stopped again to refuel but it was like Michael just ran through and doubled his lead, what was worse is that he was looking so strong, I began to doubt if I could keep up and chase him down. I didn’t panic and just kept with my game plan, Michael is a very strong marathoner, much better than I am but I was hoping the extra distance would get to him if I could just keep up the pressure. Sure enough before the end of loop 6 a couple of people told me that Michael was hurting and I eventually passed him as he was walking due to the heat. I’m so fortunate to have so many people rooting for me on the course, friends, people I’ve raced against and strangers offering words of encouragement as I run past them. It means a lot to me and helps drive me and keeps my focus, these races are just as much mental as they are physical and everyone that says something to me helps me push forward and I don’t want to let them down. Ultra’s are so different than all the other races you do and it is a community that supports each other, it’s worth doing one just to see the difference.
I had a couple of friends sign up race week. Brian whom I train with Ray and David, at Ray’s suggestion was talked into the race on Monday and I ran with him Tuesday to let him know what to expect. On Wednesday at the beach run I suggested to Ryan he should join us and he said he would consider it, he went one step further and also talked his wife into joining us. I’m glad they all came out and had a good time and Brian ran the longest distance ever and looked strong. So many people gave me words of encouragement, many also did the same at Lake Baldwin, willing me to push hard and beat the much younger competition.
So now around mile 22 I was in the lead but had to continue to push hard, I knew people were much closer to me than in previous years and any cramping or easing up could see them challenging me again, the last thing I would want is someone half my age going into the final lap with a chance of chasing me down. My pace was now around 8:45 and I was trying to keep them all under 9 minutes which I did until mile 32 or 33. I was taking a salt cap every couple of loops, and the alternate loops eating a pickle. I had a Sports in Science gel and a nutrition bar and a banana by this time and planned to have a gel at the end of each loop but forgot on one and ended up just having 3 gels total. I kept drinking some water each loop and a couple of loops chugged a little Gatorade as I ran out of my Tailwind. With 2 laps to go to break the course record I started to ease up a little, trying to save my legs and avoid cramping which was my biggest fear at this time. I wished the loops were 3.65 miles long as that would break the 40 mile barrier but I will have to wait another year for that if I come back next year. A couple of people told me Jenny is behind me on the 10th loop, but I had no idea who this Jenny was or what she looked like. Michael was still in second place but walking more and Andy just behind him, neither of which I thought would catch me if I could just maintain this pace. I kind of assumed they were just playing with my mind and I ran this loop, by the end of which I saw that Andy was now ahead of Michael and I assumed in second place. When I came in for the final lap with a lot of people applauding me, I ran out with Jeff and Luis and was easing into a 9:30 pace. Then they both mentioned this mysterious Jenny person again so I had to push harder. Luis said he would pace me a little and took off so I picked up my pace and ran with him for a 8:05 pace for mile 37, he kept with me for about half a mile but now I was in the groove and moving well. I knew I had to get to the pier and the turnaround to see how close anyone could be, but knew at this pace I probably wouldn’t be caught. The next mile was around 8:30 and I didn’t see anyone at the turn, when I passed Jeff and Luis I asked them if they had see Jenny and neither had so I backed off to a 9 minute pace for the final mile and half, trying to save myself for the third race in the grand slam series, and my third attempt at winning the triple crown. The Pinellas Trail Challenge is a 46 mile race on Labor Day weekend, one I would love to win but usually suffer with cramping and have finished each year between 2nd and 5th place. This year there would be 4 weeks between these races giving me an extra week to recover.
I finished the race in 5:41:42 with 39.65 miles and a new course record, I felt pretty good and didn’t have an issue with my hip at any time during the race. In the end I had a pretty comfortable lead with several other runners finishing with 36 miles. The first couple of years I ran this pace I was cramping so bad at the end of it, but the last few years since going keto I’ve felt pretty good. After eating a couple of slice of pizza and of course one of Barbara’s cake pops waiting for the awards ceremony, I felt a little tight so went for a 1 mile cool down run before getting ready to go the bar for a coupe of beers in the local brewing bars in St Pete. Again many thanks to Sean and Tracey for putting this event on, free, for the eight consecutive year.
Thanks to all the competitors that challenge me and push me to run harder and further every year and motivate me to go out every week to train. Bigger thanks to everyone on the course for cheering me on, your kind words mean so much and help me push through all the pain barriers of fatigue, heat and exhaustion. Thanks to also the friends from Clever Training that came down to cheer me and Andy on. I need to rest now and hope that the PTC doesn’t attract the top runners as it has the last few years to give me a chance for the win. I’m so grateful for my life after my hip replacement at the end of 2010 and the start of my running career the yar after, and special thanks to Ray for taking me under his wings and teaching me so much and now for running with me several times each week, always providing encouragement and giving me confidence to go out and win. I try to share my experience with all of you, but you need to find what works for you. If I followed someone’s training plan I’m sure I would be injured within weeks. Consistency is the key, lots of easy running, and enjoying what you love. Take from this what you want, but make it your journey and your victory, whether you’re first, middle of the pack of DFL (Dead Fucking Last), you’re all winners for being out there. Enjoy and I look forward to seeing you in 4 weeks.