Well I guess it’s fitting that my 100th post is about my 100 mile run earlier this year in January. I previously wrote about my DNF at Ancient Oaks, pulling out in second place after 62 miles because I had fallen so many times on what for me was a difficult trail. I’m a road runner and only get to hit the trails about 5 times a year as I don’t pick my fit up high enough, it’s not the tree roots or rough sections cut up by the wild hogs, it’s the little rocks or roots that catch me out. It took me about a week to decide that I wasn’t done with 100’s and that I would enter the Long Haul 100 in just 3 weeks. Sure I wouldn’t lose my fitness in that time but would my body recover enough from this hard run and with all the eating and drinking associated with the holiday period. I guess there’s only one way to find out and I signed up.
I made one trip to the race location with my running buddy Ray to check out the course as it was slightly different from last year, and I needed a little confidence boost that it was going to be easier and I wouldn’t fall as often. It’s a 1 mile run in from the parking lot followed by 10 loops of a 3 leg layout returning to the hub after each smaller out and back. The first section starts on a hard pack dirt path and then out onto the grass, about 3.5 miles round trip and the easiest part of the course. Next is the longest leg, around 5 miles with a ¼ mile on tarmac before entering into the woods, along the Hall of Pines, out to the aid station and then back. This is the prettiest section and only contains a couple of areas where the footing is uneven due to the hogs and a small section with several hidden roots. The last section just less than 2 miles took the runners into a single track area where you had to hop over a few logs, watch your feet on many roots and of course another uneven hog section, this was the hardest to run on. I only fell once on this reconnaissance trip, not paying attention along the easiest section of the grass trail. It had started to rain and there was lightning off to our left, I looked over to the flash and down I went. Nothing serious, I got up, brushed away the dirt and we finished the loop. I was ready and confident.
Last year at this race I finished in 10th position from a field of about 160 runners in a time of 20 hours, 49 minutes and 3 seconds. This year I wanted to see if I could go sub 20 hours. It was great to see so many familiar faces at the start with the buzz and energy of everyone I was eager to get this adventure started. This year the race was a Western States qualifier race and had attracted many more talented runners from out of state, including Harvey Lewis returning, so I was going to be happy with a lower place finish if I could just improve on my time. The gun went off and we started our trip down the 1 mile tarmac section from the parking lot to the central hub, aka Tent City, where all the runners and their crews were setup. I was pretty much by myself but had Andy and Jim coming to pace me at mile 60, but had friends and their crew to take my cooler to the hub and watch out over me if I needed anything before then. I held back and let the leaders take off at a fast pace, I settled in around a 9:30 pace which was probably a little fast for the day ahead but it’s hard not to get caught up in everything and forget your race day strategy. Going into this I was thinking I would run 1 mile, walk a minute and repeat, not that I had practiced any of this in training. Well I felt good at the end of the first mile, one would hope so with 99 still to go, so decided I would run the first loop and then start my run/walk later.
The first loop went by without incident, talking to a few people as everyone settled into their rhythm and you passed them or were passed, or they ran by you in the opposite direction. That’s what I like so much about this race, it’s a relatively easy course, easy to manage yourself as you pass the hub 3 times each 10 mile loop, 3 aid stations and you get to see everyone many times. The ultra-running family is so friendly, welcoming and inspiring that it’s contagious as you exchange words of encouragement to each other throughout the day. The day started with the temperatures in the high 60’s and would reach the 80’s before the end of the second loop. Still I hadn’t incorporated my run/walk strategy and only stopped at my cooler to exchange my hand held with another filled with TailWind. I started the race fasted and has Sports in Science gels and energy bars in my cooler which I took one of about every 90 minutes or so, along with a salt cap to try to prevent cramping. I had maintained my 9:30 pace for the first 21 miles but now with the higher temperature and the sun beating down on you, especially on the first leg, my pace had slowed to a 10 minute mile, but still very respectable. At the end of the third lap my legs had started to grow heavy, feeling the effects of the race just 4 weeks earlier, but I pushed through it and tried to keep my pace. I was still running without walking and had now started to pass more people as the sun rose and the temperature hit 86 degrees, my pace now around 10:30. I kept going knowing that at this pace I was significantly ahead of my sub-20 hour target finish. I only fell once during the day and was hoping that Andy and Jim were keeping an eye on my splits as I was ahead of time and my energy was draining and I wanted them to be there at the start of the 7th lap after 61 miles.
I was relieved to see their faces waiting for me as I entered the hub and they joined me on my run asking how I was feeling. I was tired now and hadn’t walked at all in the race, my pace had slowed to the mid 11 minutes. Jim who is about the same age as me wasn’t a big runner, most of the time just running 3-4 miles, but had just started to increase his running and I was surprised and happy that he was going to be with me for support and encouragement throughout the night, he ended up with 21 miles. I don’t like running in the dark, so having people with me helps reduce my anxiety about that. This year I had bought a nice waist lamp by UltraSpire as I didn’t like running with a headlamp, you don’t realize how many bugs there are until you run all those hours with them inches away from your face and bats also flying by. Jim and Andy also had lights so that also lit up the trail for me making it easier to navigate. Andy is less than half my age and a talented runner just getting into Ultra’s, he was going to run the last 40 miles with me and Jim would meet us each time we passed the hub and get me what I needed.
The first loop with them went well but by mile 70 my legs had given up and started to shut down, they were on auto pilot moving forward, only my mind and determination were keeping them going. My ankles, which hadn’t fully recovered from my Ancient Oaks 4 weeks earlier, had been on fire from the unevenness of various areas where the hogs had been and my knees were destroyed, especially my right knee that also took a beating from Ancient Oaks. I ran 72.3 miles without stopping, the longest I had ever gone without walking. For the remainder of the race I had to take short walks after that every mile or less, but each time I wanted to start running my mind was willing but my legs just wouldn’t move and I had to summon all my energy to start again. Andy would warn me about every root or stone coming up, I could see them but somehow couldn’t lift my legs over them and would catch it and had no strength in my legs to recover and would stumble over to the right side. Andy was there to keep me steady me every time, I don’t think I would have fallen but it was comforting to know he was watching over me as I steadied the ship and would start up again. My pace was now between 13 to 15 minutes a mile as I pushed on, knowing that my sub 20 hour goal was drifting away from me.
I had managed to climb into 5th or 6th place with less than 2 laps to go, but now could see several runners gaining on me. Luis who passed me late in the race last year ran past me looking strong with his pacers and I exchanged places with a woman that was run/walking but eventually she pulled away from me. I was now about 5 to 10 minutes off the pace for a sub 20 hour finish if I couldn’t change something. Somehow around mile 85 I found some energy and took off catching Jim and Andy off guard and they had to scramble to catch up to me as I ticked off 2 sub-13 minute miles and was then able to maintain a low 13 minute pace for most of the remaining miles apart from 3 miles around 16 minutes pace where my energy faded and I needed to recharge by walking and taking a gel. I knew I was on target and completed 100 miles in 19:29:39 and only had 2 miles to go to finish the race for a sub 20. I wished I could have pushed hard to try to catch one of the runners ahead of me but I couldn’t and finished in 9th place in 19 hours, 52 minutes and 40 seconds. This was almost an hour quicker than the same race last year, who said you can’t get faster as you get older.
Jim and Andy looked after my nutrition needs and kept me moving forward, without them I don’t think I would have finished the race sub 20 hour. I really don’t know how I did it as every part of my legs were under severe stress, however my hip which I had replaced just over 10 years ago didn’t even twinge during the entire race.