Dave – Going for Gold in my 3rd Ultra Race

MM 50K run in
Running into the transition area around mile 28

Heading into last weekend’s Matt Mahoney’s 50K race I wasn’t sure what to expect, not because of the pantyhose division but due to my hip replacement giving me issues during the last week. I had trained hard for this, completing many runs of 26.2 miles or more, many during the heat of the day and including a marathon of just bridge repeats. However the week before the race on an easy 10 mile Saturday run with my iRun Family my hip started screaming at me at mile 3 and didn’t ease up. So during the week I took it easy to prepare for the race.

I drove 2 hours to Orlando that morning as the race didn’t start until 8:40am, who starts a race at that time in Florida. At the start I chatted with Michael Stork, last year’s winner and also the race director for the Pinellas Trail Challenge, a 46 mile race on September 3rd, labor day weekend. I knew he would be pretty much my main competition in the race and I wanted to beat him. I have about 5 or 6 ultra’s that I plan running this year, leading up to the Daytona 100 mile race. Today was a smaller race and I knew there would only be a handful of people that could beat me if my hip held up and I didn’t cramp like I did in the previous 2 ultras, my goal was to win.

8:40 came and we started running, sure enough it was me and Michael out at the front running a mid-7 minute pace, a little quicker than I planned. I kept up with him as we completed the first loop around Lake Baldwin, 2.5 miles with little shade and I then informed him I was planning on running 8’s so I dropped behind him 20 yards but didn’t slow down and maintained the same pace. As we came to the end of each loop I had closed the gap but had to stop to change my handheld nutrition whereas Michael’s wife passed him his and he pulled away again. At the end of the third lap I still had some left so decided not to stop and didn’t lose any ground, however very shortly after I had finished it and didn’t have anything to drink and now the temperature was already in the low 90’s and I was regretting it and I think it was going to come back and bite me later.

Coming to the end of the 4th loop Michael went to the bathroom and I had to stop to refill my bottles as I only had 3. In the rush to get back out before Michael I forgot to pick up my water and even though I was probably about 25 yards away I decided not to turn back and kept going. Our pace had slowed to just over 8 minute miles now and I completed laps 5 & 6 ahead of him seeing him come into the aid station area as I was leaving. I took of my shirt after got a dry shirt out but forgot to put it on and left without it. During the next loop I could feel my right hamstring starting to get tight with cramp and I had to back off the pace a little. I don’t usually have any cramping issues after 15 miles but with the drink issues and the heat I was concerned with 17.5 miles still to go. When I came round next time I asked if anyone had any pickle juice but nobody did so I pushed ahead.

My next lap the cramping continued and I had to slow down a couple of times and walk a little when I felt it coming on to prevent severe cramping. I looked down at one stage during this loop and my left foot was planting outwards about a 30 degree angle but after walking it was okay again. There was a couple that passed me and asked if I was okay and they said they had some pickle juice that they would leave on top of the car for me. However when I started running again I soon passed them so that would have to wait another lap. This race had people running in both directions and I kept passing a young attractive girl, Renee, who was racing the opposite direction from me and I wasn’t sure how close she was to me as I felt like we passed many times, but in my direction I was still leading and assumed Michael was behind me.

When I came in the next lap I looked on top of all the cars but couldn’t see any pickle juice, I was concerned as my cramping was getting worse. I had remembered to take a couple of salt caps but each time coming in always forgot something. I also experimented with Tailwind for this race having given up taking Gu’s and Gatorade as much as I could over the previous couple of months. However I think I completely underestimated the dosage and watered it down to much so it wasn’t as effective as it should, in addition to not drinking enough. During the next loop my left foot started planting out sideways again and I couldn’t do anything with it to get it straight.

This is how my left leg was planting
This is how my left leg was planting

As I looked down at it my outside calf muscles cramped hard and they looked like they bulged out the left side of my leg by an inch, then my right calf cramped and then my hamstring, I knew I was going down then. Luckily there was a good Samaritan who quickly came to my rescue, Malika, she kindly stopped and helped me stretch my calf’s until I was out of pain and then helped me to my feet and instructed me to walk and off she went. A couple of minutes later I passed her on the loop and she told me I should slow down otherwise it would happen again, I replied “I would but Michael Stork is probably 2 minutes behind me so I can’t”, she laughed and said go for it.

My next stroke of luck occurred as I came into the transition zone, I still couldn’t see any pickle juice on any cars but as I was running a couple in a car (I still don’t know their names to thank them) rolled down their window and asked if I still wanted the pickle juice. They had started earlier to avoid the heat and were leaving, of course I said yes and they produced half a large jar of pickle juice which I quickly accepted. As I sat down on my cooler to try to drink it, just raising the jar to my mouth my arm muscles were cramping making it difficult to drink, that and the taste of it. However I knew it would helped so gulped down as much as I could and ate half a bagle with chive cream cheese and drank a bunch of water. Feeling better I got up and set off again remembering to grab a cold cloth to also put under my cap to help cool me off.

I also remembered to tighten my shoe laces as they had started to feel a little loose and my feet were moving in them. I committed one of those cardinal sins in this race running in DryMax Hot Weather Running Socks for the first time. When I put them on in the morning I wasn’t sure I had a good pair, both feet had an ‘L’ in the toe area and the socks I usually run in have an ‘L’ and an ‘R’ to signify which foot to put them on. I later learnt that the ‘L’ is the size. They contain something called PTFE to reduce friction which allows them to stay cooler and drier, and have a vented arch band to allow the heat to escape which is a perfect match with my Adidas Climachill Boost shoes which also contain a vented strip. My feet felt great, didn’t blister and were not an issue at all, hopefully they will perform as well in my longer races. I had 2 blisters from a 6 mile barefoot tempo beach run from a couple of weeks before and they were no trouble.

As I ran the 11th loop my legs felt easier but still were tight and I had to walk again. Renee saw me and we exchanged our usual ‘good job’ and she continued, I was still concerned in case she was ahead of me and now she saw me walking. When I came in at the end of that loop I sat down again and finished off the rest of the pickle juice, sucked down an Accel Gel , refilled my hydration and off I went again. I think the Accel Gel is less thick than a Gu and easier to swallow, they claim more endurance and less muscle damage, try a sample pack of 6 for $3.49. I felt much better now and threw down a sub 9 minute 29th mile, even if it was by less than a second it was my quickest since mile 16 and I felt good. My next mile was 9:04 and now I was coming in to start my last lap as I announced it to Susan Anger who arranges this race, which is free, well organized, self-supported and a great way to get into Ultra racing. I sat on my cooler and looked over and Michael was at his truck, I was a full lap ahead of him as he had been suffering with cramps also. I took my time now, made sure I had plenty of water to make sure I could get through the last lap without any issues and had the other half of my bagel. At some stage during the race I also snacked on a very small bag of oatmeal cookies that was given out at the end of some half marathon and that was my nutrition for the day. Talking with Stephanie after the race she told me she drinks about twice the recommended dosage during a race in this heat and humidity. I still have a lot to learn about ultras but everyone is so generous in their advice.

I set off and soon passed Michael as I continued around a 9 minute pace. I thought about taking it easy but didn’t want to be passed so pushed on, I still felt good. As I passed the 50K mark at 5 hours and 5 minutes, what I thought was the length of the race I still had 1.5 miles to go as we had to complete 13 laps of the 2.5 mile course. I was tired but knew this was going to be good training for my upcoming longer races. As I approached the finish I picked up my pace as I ran to the finish line to the applause of Susan and the others, I had won my first ultra race on my third time of trying.

Finally a win after two 2nd places
Finally a win after two 2nd places

That was my goal, I had trained hard and was somewhat confident and now I was rewarded. The time was 5 hours, 19 minutes, 31 seconds, to be honest a lot slower than I was hoping for but given the heat probably still a very respectable time. My goal was probably unrealistic given the conditions and I have to set better expectations for myself. There was a young girl sat by one of the first cars as you approach the finish, she was with a young guy and now I remember that I hadn’t seen him all day. He, Tyler, actually ending coming in second around 20 minutes behind me. I’m glad I had forgot about him otherwise I would have probably pushed harder and maybe suffered more cramping if I had known. Jennifer came in third, Stephanie shortly after and then Michael. I felt sorry as several others still had a couple of laps to run and now it was 2 o’clock and did I mention very hot.

My hip was aching as I tried to walk it off and I knew the drive home would be no fun. After a quick shower in the dog park I put on my 110% ice compression pants and stuck a couple of bags of ice in the pockets to ease the pain. Thoughts about why I race with a hip replacement run through my mind as they do after most races, and with even longer races ahead I question should I give up. However after a day or so I’m longing to get back out on the road and push ahead to my next challenge. I walked around and chatted with many of the others as they finished the race, ultra-running is a more friendly atmosphere than most other races and with many entertaining characters, Barbara, Bill etc. all of which make it fun.

This was the first race of 3 of what’s known as the FURocious Summer Slam, a series of 3 free races put on by 3 great race directors, Susan for this one, Michael for the PTC and in the middle on August 13th is the 6 Hour DURTY B-EE-RR-UN in downtown St Pete put on by Sean Connolly and his wife. These Fat Ass events are great and enable people like me to experience these challenges. If you get chance to participate or support one of these I highly recommend them, who knows where it will lead but enjoy the journey. I’m already training hard for the next one and hopefully will do well again this year and continue to learn from my mistakes and from talking to people and reading all their posts. The good news was my hip felt fine after a day off and I ran 6 miles with iRun on Monday at an 8 minute pace and it felt easy. Hope to see you all again on the 13th.

Winners: Thomas Grinovich, Stephanie Miller, David Whiteside and Jennifer Carvallo.

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