Ever since about the day after I successfully completed my first 50-miler last October, the idea of attempt 100 miles has been in the back of my mind. I pretty much knew that would be my “A” goal for 2016, and when I ran the Winter Beast of Burden 25 miler option in January, I decided that would be the venue for my first 100 during the summer.
I followed the Ultraladies 100 miler training plan which basically brought me up to several back to back weekends of 30 miles on Saturday and 20 on Sunday. I bolstered the plan with a number of races thrown in, just for the comraderie and training value, including the Cowtown Ultramarathon 50K (road) in Dallas in February, my first trail 50K at NJ Ultrafest on April 2, my first 6 hour race at the end of April at the Buffalo Distance Classic (BPAC) where I got in a total of 36 training miles (although only 34 of them counted towards my race time), Ragnar Cape Cod in May, and the Cooperstown marathon and Vegan Power 50K in June (I’m not a Vegan but they let me in anyway!). My final training race was Gil Egils’ wonderful inauguration of the Candlelight 12 hour 3 weeks prior to the race, where I got in 42 miles. And, of course, there was my fabulous week of Boat Running on our European cruise – where I was afraid I’d not be able to hit my training plan but in fact ended up exceeding it, getting in a total of 80 miles that week on the boat track. I had managed to avoid injury and burnout, and felt as ready for the race as I could possibly be.
The week prior to the race, the weather forecast started coming in. The closer the race got, the more alarming the forecast became. It started out with a low in the 60’s and a high in the low to mid-80’s with a chance of showers. By Thursday when the 48 hour forecast was available, it was up to a high of 87, lots of humidity, and likelihood of thunderstorms (some “severe”) pretty much for the entire timeline of the race. I wasn’t worried about running in the rain – I had some significant practice running up to 30 miles in solid rain during training – but it did add some logistical challenges for packing. Being worried about potential blisters running in wet shoes and socks, I packed 4 pairs of shoes and 3 pairs of inserts. Also, as chafing has been pretty much my most troublesome race injury, particularly in hot humid and rainy weather, I needed to pack race tops that were cool enough for a hot race in the high 80’s (read sleeveless), that were tight enough to avoid chafing, and that covered the portion of my back that would have my race pack (the one time I ran in a “racer-back” top in rain, my pack rubbed my back raw). There were only a few options that fit the bill, with my final decision for “primary” outfit being one of my triathlon suits – which had the advantage of being skin tight, sleeveless and well suited to wet conditions since they are made to swim in. However, again, with the likelihood of rain for almost all of the race, I packed enough outfits that I could change multiple times, if necessary.
|Main aid station supplies|
|12.5 Mile drop bag stash|
I was thrilled that my parents and daughter were willing to go out to the race with me. I pretty much never have support at shorter events, but as this was my first 100 miler, it was a big deal emotionally. I left work at noon on Friday and we headed out to Buffalo, found a fabulous restaurant via Trip Advisor reviews, and settled in for the night.
|Dinner the night before|
I had foolishly booked a hotel via Expedia and had not looked closely enough at the map. I was a bit dismayed to find out that the hotel I picked when I searched for hotels “in or near” Lockport ended up being 35-40 minutes away. This wasn’t so much of a problem for me, since once I got to the race I wouldn’t be going back to the hotel – but I felt badly for my family and for my pacer Sen and his wife, who were booked at the same hotel, who would not actually be able to easily pop back and forth from the race venue to the hotel if they needed anything.
As usual, I did not sleep particularly well. I wasn’t nervous per se… but I’d say I was on edge. For the week before the race, I’d pretty much just wanted to get this thing started – and taper didn’t help that feeling at all!
When I woke up Saturday morning, I turned on the news and weather report and saw that the nighttime “low” had been “historically” high – so it was already 78 degrees at 5:30 a.m. Game on.
Breakfast was the complimentary hot breakfast provided by the hotel. Since race start wasn’t until 10am, we had plenty of time for coffee, food and set-up. I didn’t want to be too full – but also wanted to eat enough to carry me through for a while. I ended up eating an egg and 2 Belgian waffles. It turned out it was really good I went for that second waffle…
Getting to the race start was a little less than smooth, as I had used the wrong address from the race web page and we found ourselves in the middle of a neighborhood that was clearly not the race start. Thank goodness for smartphones – we looked up the correct address and got there minutes later with plenty of time to spare. I registered, picked up my stuff, and helped my dad set up “The Race Palace” – a new tent/screenhouse I had bought so my family would avoid both sweltering and getting drenched.
|The race palace and my family|
There were a number of folks I was on the lookout for. My new amazing friend Mary Skelton DeSilva who was running the 25, and Katherine Fleming… I had met both Sarah Smith Hardy and Sofia Kim online – both running their first 50. I managed to find all of them before the race start.
|Me before the race|
A few minutes before the start, the music started playing loudly – AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells – doing great things to get me all pumped up to run. And then, JUST before the race started, of course, they put on the Stone’s Beast of Burden – and off we went.
I started the race running with Sofia – my new pal up from NY, running her first 50. We started at a super easy pace – checking my watch, we were doing about 11 minute miles, consistently, for the first 4 or 5 miles. Somewhere around the 45 minute mark, we separated so we could each better run our comfortable pace. It was hot out – but to me it didn’t feel uncomfortably hot. Yet. There was a bit of a breeze and a bit of cloud cover. What I wasn’t so happy about, though, was how my feet and right hip felt early on. Which is to say, both started to hurt early. And, even though it didn’t feel hot per se, it didn’t feel exactly good either. My first 10 miles felt pretty strong and good. And then things started to deteriorate.
|Sucking down liquid at 12.5 miles|
What I was noticing in a big way was just how different this run felt than a lot of my 30 mile training runs. I had pretty regularly been hitting the 25 mile mark at about 4:25-4:30 and that was running at a pace I felt was pretty easy. This run so far was feeling like I was running through deep water. What's more, my gut was acting up and I wasn't able to really eat much of anything except Coke and Ginger Ale. The last 3 miles of this 25 I’d say I really had to fight for. I had started to build in 1 minute walk breaks early on in the race, at the advice of another ultra running who suggested that for a flat 100, I should do so sort of mechanically – just because there wouldn’t be hills to tell me when to walk. I was doing the walk breaks perhaps every 20 minutes or so at first, which felt fine. But the last 3 miles of the 25, less and less time elapsed between each walk break and I truly didn’t know whether I’d be able to continue the race. I felt pretty much like I had been hit by a Mack truck. I hit 25 miles at the 5 hour mark, which was pretty much 30 minutes slower than I would have predicted, and I hit it feeling pretty bad. I found out later that the temperature had hit 93 degrees as I was passing through the Gasport Aid station.
My normal aid station strategy is to move through it as quickly as possible – but I knew at this point I needed to get myself back in shape. My parents and my daughter Patty were hovering closely, trying to figure out what I needed. I was feeling pretty fuzzy but managed to tell them to get me gingerale and then more gingerale. I changed my shoes because my feet were definitely bothering me a bit, and lay down on my back with my feet up while my mom poured water over my face. After a minute or so I was able to get back up and figured I really needed to get back on the course.
Back out for my second 25, I started a slow run, and decided that my best strategy was to avoid walk breaks for as long as I could – because mentally, when I took the breaks, it was hard each time to get started again. It was a good strategy. It was 3:10 in the afternoon, so even though it was still hot, I knew it was going to cool down pretty soon. And once I was running again, I managed to keep a run for miles before I took another walk break. I’d say that was sort of mentally the turnaround point in the race where I felt like I was feeling better and would be able to keep going. Nonetheless, there was still a lot of heat to beat - even though evening was approaching. I continued to take more time at the aid stations than I normally would have just trying to cool off. The volunteers were incredible - they would fill my hat up with ice, which I then proceeded to dunk my face and head into, and ultimately put down my suit just to get my temp down. Still, I couldn't eat much of anything. A couple of grapes, an orange slice, and 2 or 3 Pringles was about all I could choke down. It seemed like anything I ate just caused my gut to clench up in a knot.
I was due to meet my first pacer, Allison Ossipovitch, at the aid station in Middleport – the 37.5 mile mark. Just a couple hundred feet before the aid station, on the side of the path I could see Allison waving. With her were my parents, my daughter Patty, and pacer #3 – Sen, and his wife (whom I had never met). I had a crew waiting for me!
Allison took such wonderful care of me at the aid station. Even though I was feeling much better than I had a 25, I think my family was still worried – but Allison knew what to do. She took my pack off and filled it with ice and water. I handed my iPod to Patty, figuring I didn’t need music anymore now that I had company. And off we went.
|Starting off with Allison|
I was getting pretty thirsty, and with my gut issues was having a really hard time drinking much water – so getting enough liquid outside of the aid stations was tricky. My folks had gotten me Coconut water, which was perfect – but was, by now, also gone. Allison got in touch with my parents who met us 3 miles before the 50 mile mark to get me more coconut water. Somewhere in there it had gotten dark, so we were now wearing our headlamps. Throughout that 12.5 miles, Allison just kept checking in, asking how my stomach was, mothering me and keeping me on task.
|Finishing the 50 with Allison|
Coming in to 50, I saw pacer #2 – Russell Muff, along with his wife and kids who had come to see him off. So – this is how amazing runners are. I have met Russ exactly once before in my life, at the CanLakes 50 race. We were Facebook friends because of CanLakes, and had one extra bond which was that we had both raised money for the same team (NF Endurance) in racing an Ironman – AND, we had both done the same Mont Tremblant ironman (his was one year after mine). At CanLakes, we had run together for maybe a mile before he took off at his own pace, and then I saw him at the end of that race for about 10 minutes as we were both recovering from our first 50 miler. So, before he offered to pace me, Russ and I had spent approximately 20 minutes together - ever. And he rearranged his work schedule and came to run with me for 25 miles at night. Oh. My. God. How amazing. And his beautiful family came too.
|Russ and his kids|
My daughter had wondered whether I would find it uncomfortable running with someone I really didn’t know. And it wasn’t remotely. Russ took great care of me too. If he were running this 25 miles on his own, I’m betting his normal pace would have been somewhere in the 8-9 minute mile range. And the amazing thing to me was, Russ pushed me to keep the pace that I could realistically keep at that point in time – which was about 14-15 minute miles.
The thing about that 3rd lap was, that every step was new. The longest I’d ever run before was 50 miles, so everything beyond that was an unknown. Knowing how completely spent I had been after my first 50 miler, feeling like I couldn’t go another step, I thought it was entirely possible I’d have to walk the last 50 miles of my race. In fact, I felt completely spent after THIS 50 miles - pretty much exactly the same as I felt after my first 50 in October. Maybe worse. So on this 3rd lap, I was thrilled to find that the majority of time I was actually able to run, even though starting the loop, it didn't feel like anything I could possibly do. I ran slowly, but I ran. And, because it was now dark and getting cooler, I started feeling significantly better. Russ noted that as we moved along from 50-75 I was actually starting to run stronger again.
I was excited each time I hit a new milestone. 62 miles was a big deal because it was 100K. 70 miles put me into a new decade. And then we were at 75, where Russ handed me off to Sen.
Sen is a Ragnar Relay teammate from my Cape Cod Ragnar team – the Lactic Acid Droppers. (LADS). Most of the LADS live in the West Hartford, CT area – I met them for the first time when I had joined that team with my West Hartford cousin, who knew a couple of those runners. As happens at Ragnar, the team got really close. One, Ed, even got the team name tattooed on his forearm. Most of the LADs go for lots of regular runs together, and I’m jealous of that because I live 3 hours away. But Sen and his wife drove 7 hours from Connecticut so that he could run my last 25 miles with me.
I was figuring on 8 hours for my last 25 miles. This was from a mental calculation that if we walked just a little under 20 minute miles for the whole 25, we could finish it in 8. I really wasn’t thinking I had too much run left in me at that point.
Surprise! So, even though I was done running, about a mile after Sen and I took off at a walk, I said I’d try some running. It turned out I had a bit of run left in me after all.
We experimented a bit with ratios. First I’d try running for a couple of minutes and then walking for a couple of minutes. That was hard. My next idea was to run for 1 minute, walk for 3. That was not a good idea. I had thought it would be better mentally to know I was only running for 1 minute, but in fact the 2 bad things about it were: 1) With 1 minute run stretches, I wasn’t running long enough to get in a groove and get to a more optimal run speed (which by then was somewhere between 12 and 13!), so our overall mile pace got slower, and 2) mentally during a 1 mile stretch, I had to make the transition from running to walking 3 times rather than 1 so it was actually mentally harder. What we ended up settling on was a strategy whereby I’d commit to running 3 tenths of a mile and then walking – but in fact a number of times I pushed it to 4 tenths or longer, and that worked pretty consistently well. I was still running when we hit the 87.5 aid station – one of the last milestones of the race. And, each mile, we were consistently going several minutes per mile than my estimated 3 mph.
|Dark running with Sen|
Several major things had happened at 87.5. Somewhere around mile 82 (the previous aid station), my gut started to ease up and I could start taking in a bit more solid food. I think that did wonders for my overall well being. Running through the cooler portion of the night was invigorating – and having the sun come up and having it be morning was a big deal mentally too. And, well, we were at the last turnaround point. 12.5 miles to go! The picture below is one of my favorites from the whole race. I had this great big happy grin on my face – and I really WAS that happy. I was going strong – slow, but strong – and I was almost there.
There was no question in my mind that I was going to finish this thing – the only question was how strong. Would we be able to maintain at least 20 minute miles for the last 12.5?
Yes. Yes we were. In fact, EVERY mile was less than 20 minutes – generally around 17, and one of those INCLUDED an aid station stop.
|Mile 90 or so|
When we had 5 miles to go, I turned around and saw to my horror that there was a racer not too far behind me. Where did HE come from? I did NOT want him to pass me. I knew from a volunteer that I was within the top 10 race finishers and I wanted to keep whatever place I had. Sen pointed out that this runner had actually been in front of us for a while, but we had apparently passed him at the last aid station. We tried a run, but at that point in time running had become counterproductive: recovery from the brief forays into runs resulted in much slower post-run walking, decreasing the overall pace per mile. So Sen took me on a powerwalk. He was my pacer, and he paced me. We pushed it up from 17.5 to 16 minute walking miles, and did that for the last 4 miles of the race – each mile putting us just a little bit further in front of the competition.
I had told anyone who asked that I expected to finish the race in between 24-27 hours, and that my most realistic guess was 25 hours. Of course, my wish was sub-24. After my first challenging 25 miles, I knew that the sub 24 was way out of the question and I was thinking 26-27 was much more likely. My finish time ended up being 25 hours and 23 minutes – which was almost 40 minutes faster than I was figuring when I started that last lap. So – even with the debilitating heat, in a race in which 65 people signed up, 10 didn’t start, and 35 dropped out along the way, I managed to come in only 23 minutes behind my “realistic” goal time, and 6th overall in the race, 3rd woman in.
It was a good day.