Thursday, December 4, 2014

Peak Ultra 200


The Challenge of the Peak Ultra 200:

Run up and down a mountain, on a rugged 10 mile loop in the Green Mountains of Vermont and repeat the loop 20 times for a total of 200 miles and 76,680 feet of elevation change. There are only 3.4 days before the cutoff and the runner determines how to spend that precious time.

Before 2014, only 4 people had ever finished this event and the last finishers were in 2011. About a dozen brave souls try every year and it says something for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 racers that they even attempted 200 miles with such a low chance of finishing.



Preparation:

I spent a full year readying myself mentally for this race. I visualized everything that could go wrong and the state of mind I would need to have in order to push through.

As a responsible husband and father, most of my physical training took place at 5AM before my wife and daughter woke up and during my daughter’s naps on weekends. Any parent of a 1 or 2 year old would fully appreciate how difficult it is to train properly for a marathon or even a 100 with a young child. It takes quite a bit more planning and dedication to be an active family member, hold down a full time job and face the leap from running 100 milers to the rarely attempted 200.

I also set up a totally kickass team ready to go (Dima and Jane). Over the course of 6 months I helped prepared them for the challenges we could face by sending concise, weekly emails to get them familiar with my 100 mile experiences and what we might encounter for the 200. They, in-turn, prepared themselves physically and mentally to pounce on those challenges and they did.

But I wasn’t only training for the 200 and doing the things above. I was also transferring from NYC to Boston, selling our condo, buying a new condo in the state we didn't live in (delete yet), finishing up a 30 person project I was managing and learning about new projects and new people in a new office. (Delete balancing this with training for the 200 miler)

I still showed up to the Peak Ultra 200 in the best shape of my life.


The Other Side of Things:

I have to admit it wasn’t all planning, attack and take down the 200. I signed up to race a year before the event and knew in my gut that I was planning to only go there to give it my best shot. You could say I expected to try hard, but ultimately fail.

But there also existed the part of me that wanted to find the way to succeed! On a training run I saw this graffiti on a bridge. It had a real influence on me and helped me to shift my mindset. I became determined to do everything I could to finish the 200 or blowup on the mountain trying.



With my Dima and Jane's help, I completed the Peak Ultra 200 in 73 hours and change. I am not a fast runner and I do not have a natural born talent. I had only run my first 5k, 7 years ago. But I took on the improbable and made it happen. And now I feel awesome because I have set such an example that I hope will influence my 2 year old daughter as she grows.

This blog post isn't total recall of this awesome, epic adventure but for those interested in what happened, here is what I can remember.


10-Mile Loop. 1917 feet of gain. First two miles at a slight uphill.


Pre-Game

As I started driving up to Vermont for the race, my confidence was good but mixed in with a healthy amount of fear. Every year the organizers change the course. It may seem strange that a runner would sign up for a race and not know where they are going or what elevation or terrain they will face but consider that part of the mental challenge of the Peak races.

Race HQ. Also the site where at 180 miles into the race, I at all of the pizza left on the table.

I drove up Tweed River Drive to my team's camp site that was located halfway up the mountain and along the course. It was getting dark and I sat in a camping chair and chilled out. There was a large stream behind the site which created a really nice ambiance. It was a good choice to have our team's camp site up on the mountain like this. The race started with a 2-mile brutal climb and our tents were located on the course at about the 1 mile mark. This meant for me that at the end of the loop, I wouldn't stop at Race HQ with the others but instead keep trucking up the mountain for one more mile. At this point in a loop, my water supply would be for the most part used up and that meant I was carrying less weight up a very tough climb. By comparison, the other runners starting their loops at race HQ at the bottom of the mountain and face a the 2-mile climb with their packs full. The location of our camp site would give me a planned break halfway up the climb where I would normally take time to refuel, take care of feet, change clothes etc.

The sun was setting and I sat in my chair eating a second dinner. Over the next few days, Jane and Dima, would arrive and meet me here at this spot. Dima, my long time friend, was to be the Team's Base Camp Manager and manage a team of 4 pacers. But then at the last minute 3 pacers bailed and it meant Dima would be alone, awake at base camp for several days and Jane would be burdened as my only pacer. Jane had run a one 50k before and little did I know but she would more than double that to pace me for 70 miles! It was truly incredible and inspirational to witness. The reader should know that I had put a lot of effort into preparing the full team for the last 6 months. Having lost 3 out of 5 team members right before the epic adventure began really had potential to f me up mentally. But it didn’t, so I guess that meant I was ready.


0 to 10, The Course

It was about 40 degrees and freezing when I woke up and it took me awhile to get my ass out of the warm sleeping bag. I loaded up my pack with Nuun and water, ate some peaches and pounded a Boost.

I recall looking around at our camp site and having the realization that for most of the race, everything here will be happening very slowly for Dima and Jane. But for me, my time here would pass dreamlike as I faded in and out of the camp site over the next few days.

200 Milers with Race Director Andy and Don

The start came and went before I knew it. I can only recall Andy Weinberg the Race Director saying: "This course has been marked 3 times. If you get lost, you better find your way back on your own. Anyone that admits they got lost is a DNF."

We were off and climbing and it felt great weaving up the first part of the course. It started immediately with a very steep, 2-mile heart pounding climb up up and up! That was totally brutal on the legs and would only get worse.

The location for the camp site was already paying off because as I passed it half way up the first climb I was able to drop off clothes that I no longer needed.


Each 10 mile loop started with a 2 mile climb looking pretty much like this.

A little more climbing then through the Labyrinth!!! The Labyrinth is the best part of the course!

In this photo I'm checking to see if everything is still attached.


After the labyrinth, there is still some more climb to the summit.



Starting the descent from the summit.

Then it was downhill on switchback, switchback, switchback, switchback and more neverending switchbacks. Then a steep climb back up, then more switchbacks. Finally there is a quad-killing descent on a terrible route covered in large boulders and nicknamed Middle Bitch. Thankfully I only had to do that descent 20 times!

Then it was a long way up and down through the trails named Stairs and Escalator. Then back down to the end of the 10-mile loop.

TAC Teammates Steve and Nick were racing on the course for another event and renamed the trails. Thanks Steve for photos in the report! http://www.njshorerun.com/



10 to 30, Course and Crew Chief Dima




The second time up the mountain I found myself hungry for some real, cooked food. It was strange that I was running but still eating solid foods. Something good was happening here.

Dima arrived to crew and I took him through my gear. I showed him all of the OCD labels I had on everything.



Then Dima applied his own OCD, in addition to my OCD and the results were outstanding. He ran the Operation near perfect for the next 65 hours. 'Perfect' is not something I expected I would use while writing this 200 race report but that's what Dima did.

Substituted in an old photo. Dima had a raging bonfire going for us all weekend long.

What do you want in your pack?


40 to 60 Food, Running Backwards & a Zombie

On one of the switchback sections near the end of the loop, four mountain bikers zipped by me at some fast speeds. They were trapped on the trail because our course was roped off to keep us in. The bikers kept going back and forth in front of me trying to find a way out. But each time they passed I had to hop off the trail to let them go. At one point this totally messed me up and I headed back on the course in the wrong direction. It was confusing and although I would memorize every turn, rock and mud puddle, I hadn’t done it yet so I kept on backtracking. We were so spread out that no one was coming along the trail either so I would know which was the correct way. It was pretty stressful wasting time and energy and I must have looked like a rat in a maze that had come completely unglued.

I passed through Race Headquarters and climbed halfway up the mountain into my camp to regroup. Dima had picked me up a sandwich from the General Store and I couldn't believe I ate half of it. I normally can't eat solid foods in ultras but at this race it was different. I wanted hot food, deli food, and food with flavor! On one loop I ate a burger at the top of the mountain and then when I reached the bottom I ate a second hamburger. During the race I ate many slices of pizza, soups, dozens of fun-size Snickers bars, cherry tomatoes, grapes, peaches, deli sandwiches, eggs, sausage, bacon, watermelon and hot dogs. Pretty much anything I could get to was eaten. I didn’t even touch my high calorie, long chain carbohydrate ultrarunning drinks.


The Animal Camp (TAC) was represented at the Peak Ultras. Here I met up with Nick Storm Trooper Bautista and NJ Shore Run Steve on the trails. http://www.theanimalcamp.com/ 
Steve and Nick

I looped out and back for my 60th mile at dusk. Things had been going pretty well so far. But now it was dark and I was falling asleep pretty hard on my way back to camp. It pretty much sucks trying to move forward while your body is falling asleep against your will. I really wanted to stay awake. I tried my best to stay awake. But I stumbled left and right. Yup, Zombie Mark had finally arrived at the Peak Ultra 200. I made it back to camp and went down for a 1.5 hour nap. Literally. I went down: I opened the door but then crashed into the side of my tent.


60 to 100 Sleeping on the Trail

The next loop was much better having had a little sleep. I met up with Kevin, another 200 miler, and we chatted it up and the time flew by. But the next loop Zombie was back and I felt like The Walking Dead. Twice I had to lay down on the trail and sleep. The runners were so far apart from one another that no one came by. I felt like I was the only one out on the course.

But then the sun rose and I had my trademark rush of energy. That deep, deep blue sky separated from the blackness and I started moving fast. It had been about 24 hours of running and I had completed 80 miles. I was approaching the sign-in/out sheet and Andy the Race Director spotted me from afar and yelled "Someone help out Mark!"

"It's ok!" a surprised voice said "He's lucid!"

Soon, 90 miles was complete and I was back at camp eating a plate of sausage and eggs.

I then cranked out mile 100. And on the advice from a friend that completed the 200 in 2011, I made a point of it to blow through camp at mile 100 and get myself well beyond that halfway mark.




100-150 and Badass Pacer Jane 

I reached Dima at mile 101 and Jane was there! My one and only pacer Jane that would push her longest distance record from 30 miles to 70 miles! Jane has a superbly awesome personality and a compassionate soul. She is also one of the toughest and most badass people I know and that says a lot. She has fought through 3 Death Races and completed one of these races officially. For the other two, she missed time cutoffs but ignored the race officials and kept on racing anyway. She put in so much effort another Death Race finisher mailed her the coveted Death Race skull and it was his only one. That’s an example of Jane, her spirit and now you can see how fortunate I was to have her at my side to pace through this epic event.

I made it back to camp and picked up Jane at mile 111. We went out for our first loop together and we talked about life, our families and shared endless endurance stories. I mentioned to her that the Boost drink had been working for me but that I was almost out of the drink. We were far out on the trail but somehow Jane found a signal and called her friend in the area. She put in an order and hemade a special trip to the store and then delivered more Boost drink to our camp site.

The Most Badass Jane


We did a loop to mile 121 and the Boost arrived! Then Jane taped my feet because of hot spots that formed on the pads. If those hot spots continued untreated then that would have been the kind of mistake that could have ended my race early.

The second night was going to be the toughest night run for me so far and having Jane pace was going to be critical. Night running was also one of her strengths which balanced with my weakness. We headed out into the night and I started the Jello sleep. It was a complete suffer-fest and try as we might, we weren't making much progress. It had rained for a period that night and so I couldn't lay down on the trail. Jane miraculously found a flat shelf under a tree that was completely dry. I passed out cold and woke up rearing to go.

We made it to mile 130 and then arrived back at camp. Dima suggested we nap so we could power through the last night loop.

1.5 hours later each of us woke up drenched in sweat and freezing. It was in the upper 30's!!! Running apparently triggered a hormone that made the body store water. When we were no longer exercising, the hormone released the water which typically happens at night. Jane and I experienced this and we both were wet, shaking and shivering in the near freezing weather. This is the only time in the race that I thought to myself “This 200 is a little crazy.”

Jane and I went for another loop and as we were finishing, the sun was also rising. We blasted off!!! It was so refreshing to finally be able to move fast and we took mile 140 down!

Just finished 140.

Jane and I with Hannibal Jeff Seymour


Passed these signs 20 times each.
The one on the left I had to think about every time I passed. But with a 4pm Thursday night starting time and the difficulty of the course it was spot on.

As the loops and days were passing by, Dima stayed ready. I don’t know if he slept during the 73 hours but if he did it wasn't more than an hour at a time. Whenever I arrived at camp, he would make it a point to ask questions and write down everything I thought I might need for the next loop. Then when I arrived for that next loop, he would go over the list from a few hours ago and confirm that I still wanted that drink, or that food, or if I still wanted to change socks or change to warmer gear. Sometimes he would have to remind me to do the essentials like apply lube for chafing. He would pick up food and wood for the fire. And yet somehow he still found the time to also feed himself and have a roaring bonfire going for us all night, every night. Dima had never crewed an endurance event before but he handled it in such a professional manner it was like I borrowed him from the crew of an Elite runner.

The next loop I went out solo and it was early morning which always gives me a rush. I absolutely hammered the loop and flew back in record time. I chowed down on bacon and eggs. And oh, did I mention that now I had run over 150 miles.


150-200 Bored, BBQ, Stars and the Finish Line

I went out for a second solo loop and I was totally bored. Things took a downturn by the time I finished 160. I had been focused on the pounding on the pads of my feet and my left knee was now throbbing. For the few occasions in my life that I had knee pain, I have never had knee pain in that place. But it wasn't critical or sharp, just very concerning.

For the next loop, miles 160-170, Dima had planned for Jane to rest up for the final push. but I really needed to change things up so I said to my team "I need a FUN LOOP." We grabbed two small video cameras and started running and filming. (The movie link is below if you're interested. Just hold on for a few more rambling paragraphs)

170 was done and we were approaching race HQ. It was the end of the day and the barbecue for the 30 and 50 milers had started and so we stopped by. I ate hot dogs, a hamburger and watermelon. I was so unbelievably exhausted and it was catching up to me. With some down time I had a rush of emotion because I knew that I was going to finish.

After the BBQ, we climbed that first mile up to our camp site and I dropped Jane off so she could rest before the big push. I headed out towards mile 180 in a pretty good mood but I was actually feeling concerned to be out my own again. I had started really feeling the mileage and could only find some comfort in that this was my last solo loop and possibly my last trial.

I looked forward to having the 30 and 50 milers to share the trail with. Seeing so many other people might help pull me forward. I turned on some hardcore music and was off. Before I knew it I made it over the summit and was on the downhill. I had started passing some of the other runners. This was also a strange experience because at times I had felt like I was running but yet not passing the people just ahead of me and they were walking! Reading this you might think yes that makes sense and my perceptionwas screwed up right? Except to add to this description, once I had finally caught up and passed, I was then able to bomb down the trail and move far away. This slow motion-fast motion happened a few times on different parts of the trail and I couldn't figure out what had actually happened.

By now I knew there was definitely something happening to my knee. Oh shit, maybe I had assumed I would make it too soon. This became a mental downer because I had to constantly balance between moving forward but not doing something that I would later regret.

Even though I thought I was running in slow motion, and I had made it back to camp in record time (2.5 hours). I even surprised Dima when I showed up. Jane continued sleeping and with 180 miles complete, I passed out for almost two hours.

To reduce swelling in the knee I took an Aleve before I went to sleep but woke up with the knee throbbing anyway. Fantastic. Jane was heading out with me and we took it easy starting on the climb to the summit. We had just under 20 miles to go!

We arrived at the top for my 19th mountain summit and shut off our headlamps. The sky was incredible! Stars beyond stars. As we were looking up and admiring the view I said to Jane:

"Are the stars moving around for you?"
"No."
"Ok then. I think I am tripping balls."

We power hiked through the darkness listening to music. We moved steady and eventually reached a muddy hard left that meant runners were almost at the start of Middle Bitch. We traversed down on that quad crushing descent and reached the river. We shut off our headlamps for one more look at the sky. We watched a satellite moving along the horizon and then an actual shooting star burned across the sky with the tail trailing behind it. Awesome! I made a wish!




190 was done! Both of us were struggling against the sleep. Stumbling up and down and all around the trail. We arrived back at camp and took a 30 minute nap. Oh man that time was so painful to wake up. Dima, are you sure that was 30 minutes?

We left camp and then climbed up, up, up and up with the sun rising in the sky. We reached the summit for the final time. It was bittersweet.


Jane and I at the final summit and mile 194ish

We completed the rest of the loop slowly and did not run hard with the sunrise like we had done on the other 2 mornings. I couldn't wait for us to meet up with Dima at the finish. Everything was a struggle. The pads of my feet were sore and blistered. The knee was hurting. The chafing was horrendous. My hands had huge blisers. Even my pack dug into my shoulders.

Around 7:30am we finally made it to the finish where Dima waited for us. We had a HUGE Team Hug and I could barely stand up. I couldn't believe we were finished? Really? Yes, it had taken 73 hours and change. I became the 7th person to ever finish this race since it was started in 2010.


Dima, Mark and Jane. 

Andy the Race Director came over and handed me the 200 Mile buckle. Someone wrote my final time on the board and the epic adventure was over. Yes, it was totally and utterly bittersweet.




Thanks and Movie Link

Dima and Jane,

I can't possibly thank you enough for what you have done although you know I do try to send thanks often. You rocked it as Crew and Pacer and I wouldn't have made it if you two weren't so dedicated into making the 200 happen for me. You were completely selfless and gave all of the support needed for the challenges that we faced. And because of your dedicated, we had some difficulty but wenever hit a bad place. It actually went pretty well and made it a ton of fun. Thank you for sharing this experience with me.

Zombie Mark



Made some Zombies for my team with the help of an experienced painter Tom Nyetflix Bisbee.

Peak Ultra 200 The Movie: https://vimeo.com/106668105



Post Race Ramblings

Quite a few people have asked me what this experience has done for me and I’ll start off by saying this is really difficult to explain!

It took me about 6 months to accept that I had actually run 200 miles. It was on a very challenging course with very little time to fix anything that went really wrong. And 3.4 days doesn’t allow room for much error. I am still shaking my head as I type this because it doesn't seem like it was real even with the photos and video to prove it.

I am feeling a disconnect with it all and this is so at odds with the accomplishment because now I feel almost insignificant. I went out to prove I could achieve something at a level much higher than most conceive. But once I got there I was surprised. I feel like I glimpsed just how little we have come in such a long time. I don’t feel that I did something insurmountable with the 200. I feel like I only scratched the surface of our capabilities. A marathon? Great. A 100? Outstanding. A 200? Wow. Well, not really because I think this is achievable if more people tried and if we did not constantly limit ourselves to what others are doing around us. Achievement shouldn't be going only a little beyond what you had done before. And achievement shouldn't be set by passing your peers by a few lengths. It should be about dreaming big for yourself and then taking all of the little steps to make it happen.

Has this adventure changed me for the better? Definitely yes. I feel more confidence in myself for planning and executing. I feel like I raised the bar a bit. And of course now I know I can run much farther than I had thought possible 1 year ago. But I kind of wish more people were pushing themselves forward but in their own way. Ultrarunning is altering the perceptions of our physical capabilities. But what if we were to start another revolution and we did the same with our mental development? If we could all just start moving forward just think about what kind of good that could mean for us.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Badger Mountain Challenge 100

Jennifer Hughes (she tied for first female) and I were keeping each other company on the way back along the McBee ridge. Picture the scene:

It is daytime so there is some light but it is raining hard and the sky is a dark grey. We are running along a ridge line towards a peak and we are about 1500 feet above the valleys on either side of us below.

There are no natural trees in this region and there is nothing on either side of this ridge for miles except empty space. And coming across that empty space are 40-50 mph winds that are driving the rain into us sideways. Up ahead there is a massive volume of water smashing against the ridge that looks like fog, but it is simply a ton of water condensed by the wind and ricocheting off the ridge. The rain against our jackets feels like hail and smacks the plastic hood next to my ear BOOM BOOM BOOM.

We continue running towards the peak in the wind and rain. Jen and I are shoulder to shoulder but we can barely hear each other. She leans in and yells to me "If this doesn't make you feel alive! Then you're already dead!"



Basics

  • March 28 & 29 2014 
  • 100 miles on a double loop course 
  • 30,000 feet of total elevation change 
  • Nice terrain with a couple of rocky sections 
  • 7AM start in Richland, WA 
  • 32-hour time limit 
  • 23 Aid Stations 
  • Course was marked well for daylight but I found myself looking around for a flag a few times at night 
  • 73 starters and 41 finishers (56%) 
  • Chris Downie 1st place for Men in 17 hours 16 minutes 
  • Jennifer Hughes & Allison Moore tied for 1st place for Women in 25 hours 48 minutes




Start to Mile 18, Loop 1



Badger Mountain was a nice climb and meandering descent (1000' up, 1000' down).
Photo credit to http://hiketricities.com/
Candy Mountain in Front and Red Mountain Behind
Photo credit to http://blog.nonick.org/

After Badger came Candy Mountain (500’ up, 500’ down). I was feeling great having completed 2 of the 12 climbs.

Following Candy was a stretch that rolled up and down and the route was mostly sand.
Inches of sand.
Miles of inches of sand.
Sand falling into my shoes as I climbed.
Sand kicking up and into my shoes as I descended.

Red Mountain followed Candy and it had a 1200' climb. 15 hours of rain began as I started that climb and that would last until around midnight. The top of Red Mountain was littered with rocks which made it slow going.

The descent from Red felt like it went on for too long. Eventually I was off that mountain and onto 4 miles of asphalt. My quads didn't like the transition but it was a speedy section and it got me to Mile 18 quickly.


Mile 18 to Mile 31, Loop 1

McBee Parking is THE aid station for the course as you visit it 4 times. I had a solid drop bag with everything I could ever want in it including clothing for running in a cyclone. Miranda, a friend of a friend that I met right before the race, was volunteering here. She had only just met me but was very kind and crewed me whenever I arrived at this aid station.

"Bring not what will keep you dry, but what will keep you warm" This came from one of the volunteers and I added a raincoat on top of my wind jacket. If the volunteer hadn’t said something t would have been very bad news for me when I was up on that ridge.

Then its up, up and up the mountain for a 1500 foot vertical climb.


The start of the climb. Look at the landscape behind me.
Photo credit to Miranda B.

I ran with Pat for 5 hours on the second loop. This was first 100 and he made it!
McBee Ridge and the climb are behind him.

Photo credit to Miranda B.
Holy. Ridge Line. The wind was coming in at 40-50mph. It was a constant force and it was driving from a long way off. Really the only thing to come in contact and slow down that wind was the ridge and my body. It was pouring and the rain was hitting me sideways. The McBee ridge run is 5 miles out to an aid station and then 5 miles back. The turn around point is a trailer perched on top of a mountain. After a quick bowl of hot soup in the trailer, I went back out into the typhoon.


Running along the ridge and the turnaround was at the towers.

I was feeling great when I returned down to the McBee Parking aid station because I was so thankful to finally be off of that ridge.


Mile 31 to Mile 50, Loop 1

All of these sections were runnable. The next part of the course was a nice 4 miler through the valley. It reminded me of Iceland with ever changing landscapes. It included a lot of short up and downs including one section with a 100 foot drop straight down immediately followed by a 100 foot climb. It’s too far to jump across.

Next I ran through acres and acres of very nice vineyards. Even though it’s only 6 miles it is a long 6 and it felt like it would never end.

Then its 7 miles running in the opposite direction of the 50 mile mark! I was thinking about how I was going to have to climb Candy Mountain and then Badger again to end Loop 1. Then run back over Badger and Candy again to really be into Loop 2.

But first thing’s first and I crossed through a long dark culvert with another runner. It was dusk when we did this and without headlamps we couldn't see anything except the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. As we popped out on the other side she said, "Well at least there were no dead bodies that I could see."


Mile 50 to Mile 68, Loop 2

At the turn around I was definitely out of it and had trouble thinking. I was on east coast time and had been running for 11 hours straight.
  • Ok, so I take off my shoes so I can put on pants over my short and now I put my shoes back. 
  • Ok so now I remember that I needed to also change my socks. So after putting the shoes back on, I have take them off again. 

My stomach wasn't feeling great but at least I had been eating all day which is rare in a 100. I took down two pieces of pizza and started running. I moved quickly away from this aid station to put some distance between myself and my car.

Back up and over Badger Mountain again and I was heading towards miles 51-100. I was totally unfocused and tried to take caffeine pills but threw them up on both tries. Thankfully the pizza stayed in so at least I would have some energy. It's the small things like not throwing up my pizza that kept me going.

Then it was up and over Candy Mountain for the 3rd Time. Then through the miles of Sahara desert again.

I was falling asleep on my feet so I took 5 minutes to sleep in a volunteer’s car. It tricked my brain into thinking I had slept. I climbed Red Mountain for the second time but on the descent from Red I got a little lost. I wasn't far off the course and kept returning to a spot with a flag and reflector. But I could not find the next flag and walked up and down the mountain looking for awhile.

Then I was onto the 4 miles of asphalt and I did a kickass impression of a Walking Dead zombie as I fell asleep while running.


Mile 68 to Mile 81, Loop 2

Miranda was still at the McBee Aid Station when I arrived at mile 68. She gave me a warm blanket and I slept in her car for 30 minutes. I felt terrible when I woke up but it helped.

2AM. Here is me feeling terrible. 
Photo credit to Miranda B.

Up up up up up up to McBee Ridge. 1500’ climb at mile 68 is no joke. Thankfully it was not really raining anymore but it was still intense. It was sick to see how far up the headlamps were and how far below they went. We’re all familiar with seeing 1500’ in front of us but when it is vertical and marked with headlamps it looks incredible.

The second time I ran the McBee Ridge I paired up with Pat the runner in the earlier photo. We were practically blind up there. It was pitch black with gale force winds and the moisture that was blowing across the ridge was reflecting back our headlamps before the hit the ground. This reduced the visibility even more. The Assistant RD had been waiting at the top of the ridge giving runners the following instructions "Follow the jeep road and if you find yourselves in the brush then you are off the road." The brush is about the size of a head of lettuce by the way. Those directions saved us once because the road was not always obvious and we couldn't see the flags until we were standing on top of them.

At one point Pat and I became separated from the road and found ourselves ankle deep in iceberg lettuce. To add a little stress we weren't exactly positive which direction we should backtrack towards. Once back on the road we moved slow to the turn around to make sure we stayed on course.


Mile 81 to Mile 100, Loop 2

I left the 81 AS as the sun was rising. It was still cold (and of course windy) but in preparation for some heavy running I shed almost all of my layers. I brought out the iPod for first time in 50 miles and cranked up Avicii's Wake Me Up. I tore down the hill determined to run the last 20 miles of a 100 miler.

I looked back at the ridge line and it looked similar to this.
Photo credit to http://washingtonlandscape.blogspot.com/

Soon enough I was less than 10 miles from the finish. I hammered my way up Candy Mountain for the 4th and final time. That mountain is a pain in the ass.

As I approached Badger Mountain I skipped the last Aid Station. I dug in and started climbing. Pole. Step. Pole. Step. I crested over the top and ran. It was 2+ miles of downhill and I blasted down it. The trails had many hikers and runners from other races and they were strung out along the trail. Woo hoo coming through! I was in such a great mood I bombing down the mountain side and singing Imagine Dragons out loud. If there's one thing I know I can't do it is sing. All of those people I passed must have suffered greatly.

I finished miles 81 to 100 stronger than I ever thought possible. It's surreal even as I write this to think about how well I was moving at the end. Did that happen? Now I know it is possible to run like that and it feels great.




This was an insane race at times and now I understand why it is a qualifier for UTMB. And at the same time it was possibly the funnest race ever! Finishing that thing under those conditions is an indescribable feeling and one I will always remember.

My time was 28:05.

Lou, thank you for the advice and yeah "Big ups and big downs." Totally. 







Thursday, September 5, 2013

TGNY 100



  • June 29, 2013
  • 5AM start 
  • 100.4 miles through Greater New York 
  • 2,000 feet elevation gain
  • Terrain is easy
  • Aid Stations every 5 miles
  • 30-hour time limit
  • 35 starters and 21 finishers (60% of starters completed the 100M. There was also a drop down option to 100k but not sure how many used this)
  • Tommy Pyon 1st place for Men in 19 hours 36 minutes 
  • Sky Canaves 1st place for Women in 22 hours 49 minutes 
  • I finished in 25 hours 38 minutes for 10th place

Manhattan
The TGNY 100 started in Times Square and the tourists were still out from the night before sitting around at the tables. They were looking at the bright lights, LCD billboards and 50 ultrarunners with backpacks and superhero compression gear.

At 5AM we were off! We ran casually; talking and meeting one another. We passed a crew of Australians still wandering the city looking for another party. "Hey! What's going on ere?"













The competition starts early: Singing the national anthem with a jackhammer in the background.


The race passes a number of sites.

Page 1 of the Turn-by-Turn Directions

I really hoped we wouldn't need the turn-by-turn directions but it was obvious right away that we had to. Ultrarunners are an extremely friendly breed but for this race we might have been running in packs out of fear of getting lost!


Bronx
Mile 16: I was running with Gray Weaver when we saw this man and woman walking a bear-sized-dog.
"Hi! Can I take a photo of your massive dog-bear?"
"No!"













I didn't get a photo of the massive dog-bear but I would say this looks close enough. Or maybe its puppy.


Mile 32: I had completed the first third of the race in 5h 45m. I went out fast to get ahead of the 80 degree temperatures. The morning humidity was also in the 80% range and it did some real damage in those first few hours with blisters and chafing that I would deal with for the rest of the race.

On the section leading up to Mile 32 I had run out of water and the course was exposed to the sun. I was overheated and losing focus. Mori was working the aid station and offered to let me sit in his air conditioned car until I felt better.

While I was hydrating, cooling down and returning to normal I texted a status to my pacers with some good info for future runners "Heat and sun. Still on schedule but expect a slowdown. Really exposed so wear sunblock. All please go over turn by turn for your route. Definitely an exercise to stay on course."


Mile 32: Mori working the aid station probably saved my race


Queens

Leaving the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge from Randalls Island there was a huge swimming pool a hundred feet below on the left. Oh sweet torture.

Texting my pacers

Mile 40: The planes were buzzing over head to land at LaGuardia Airport. Very cool!



Mile 46: Exposed on the boardwalk I kept thinking about what an egg would feel like if it missed the frying pan and landing directly on a burner.

Mile 49-50: Just before Alley Pond Park I felt like I was way, way, far out in the suburbs. Large beautiful houses with green lawns? Is this close to the city?












Tanya, an ice cold Coke and a smile

Mile 51: Tanya and Vasili were my first pacers. By now I was 2 hours behind schedule and was feeling a little nauseous. I rolled into the aid station to see my friends patiently hanging out with a group of very helpful volunteers. 

I sat down, took 2 amino and started on a ginger drink to ease my stomach. Then I booted.

We headed out with Tanya was on her bike and Vasili running next to me. These two were well prepared with an ice cold Coke and also ice in a cooler transported in an insulated backpack. They even brought me a bandana so we could fill it with ice and tie it around my neck to keep my core temperature down. Yeah for awesome pacers! We left the park covered in shade and I was hoping that maybe the rest of the race would run between buildings and I could stay out of the sun. But that didn't happen.

Vasili had the directions practically memorized. Turn by turn he navigated us towards Mile 61. Tanya even made a special side trip to get more ice and more Coke.



Mile 58: We ran through Flushing Meadows Corona Park and there were people hanging out, barbecuing, dancing meringue and playing full field soccer matches. There was a ton of positive energy here and I would have been perfectly happy to run circles through this park for the remaining 42 miles.














Mile 62 with Mike and Vasili
Mile 62: Mike was my next pacer and waiting for me at the 100k aid station. He used his bike to pace since he ran the TARC 100 two weeks before and strained his foot running through the some seriously deep mud.

He brought me a pair of thin socks to change into because I made a tactical mistake and had on regular dual layer Drymax socks. I was thinking these would wick away moisture in the 80% humidity but they were too thick for the shoes and rubbed my toes raw in the first 30 miles. At 62 miles my feet didn't hurt so I decided to change into Mike's thin socks without looking at my feet. The blisters weren't hurting so I left the feet alone and this turned out to be the right thing to do. But it wasn't 100% perfect because later that night I was running and said to Mike "One of the blisters got so big that my toenail just slid out."


Mile 63: The distance in the turn-by-turn directions were a little off and we found ourselves at a T intersection with a parkway and nowhere else to go. We started backtracking on a remote street in the middle of nowhere and randomly ran into someone I used to work with.

Mike got me a Snow Cone. I wished for these so many times
during other 100's and it finally happened.  Thank you TGNY.

Mile 65: We made it to the aid station and the sun was going down. My friend Hing was pacing next also on a bike and had shown up at mile 70 early. Since it would have been a few hours before we got there Mike called him back to meet up with us.

Mile 65 had a great aid station that included wet sponges but like most aid station stops you can only think of what you should have done right after leaving. I should have used the sponges to cool off.

We were heading towards mile 70 and then I booted up the Gatorade I just drank.

Miles 67 to 74: The Rockaways were one of my favorite legs. As we ran towards these islands I kept thinking this isn't the NYC that I knew about. I could see ocean and sand ahead of us and the sun was setting. It was a good place to be.

Hing met us as we approached the bridge and he took point to scout out markers while Mike stayed with me. It was great to have friends pacing and this is one benefit of having a 100 in your backyard. Before ultras, the three of us played on the same soccer team for many,many years and it was named Balls to the Wall!!! Hing convinced me to run my first 5k in 2007 and I haven't stopped since.

The Rockaway boardwalk was a party the entire way. It was midnight and people were stumbling home from the bars while others were waiting to go out on midnight cruises. The place was packed and our sweaty asses were dodging between all of them.

Mile 74: I transformed into Zombie right around this mileage and started to fall asleep while running. I was listing left and right and had a lot of trouble staying awake.

My Ultraspire vest had a waterproof pill holder. The first time I reached into it I must have gotten some moisture inside. Since it is waterproof, the pocket trapped the water and turned my caffeine pills into a glob of mush! This was really unfortunate because I really could have used a caffeine pill . I took down some 5-Hour Energy instead and we ran to mile 75.

Any mention of food now was making me want to throw up. We left the mile 75 aid station and I booted hard anyway. I rallied for the third time and kept on going.






Brooklyn
Mile 80: We hit up the aid station and there was a techno party going on in a nearby dome. There was also a massage chair for the runners but again I forgot to do what I needed to do while at the aid station. After we left I started thinking about how much I could use my shoulders rubbed in that massage chair.

Miles 81 to 83: Coney Island! Running on the boardwalk I was focused on the never ending, wood planks. Sure we were moving forward but now it was in slow motion. Slow motion as in the opening scene of Chariots of Fire.

Mile 85: For about 10-15 miles in Brooklyn we had to stop so I could sleep on the boardwalk benches for a few minutes and reset my brain. I also remember we had to run through sand on the sidewalk and then empty our shoes. Finally I remember the people hooking up for that entire length of boardwalk. It was pitch black in most of these places and Hing was still up front leading. He kept turning towards the dark shapes in the pitch black and would light them up with his 140 lumen headlamp. I was able to see the shocked expressions of the caught couples.

Mile 87: I struggled forward but kept falling asleep. I would slow down to a walk and Mike would unassumingly say "What's the reason for stopping? Sleep, chafing or legs?" It was a good question and it reminded me to keep moving forward.
Mike posted photos on Facebook whenever I took a 5 minute power nap. Thanks buddy.
You can see I mastered sleeping on the park benches

Mile 90: My last pacer Julian (also from the same soccer team years back) had been waiting patiently for
almost 3 hours before we arrived. The four of us stayed together and now I had completed my entourage that would help me to reach the finish. 

It was almost sunrise and now it was easier to fight off the sleep. It still happened but whenever I was a little sleepy I could keep awake by spraying my face with the water bottle. Julian asked for a sip of water and then confirmed my suspicion: it was water mixed with Gatorade. Awesome.

Mile 92: On 4th Ave. in Brooklyn some drunken idiots were chasing each other down the street to fight and we were hoping we wouldn't hear gunshots.

Julian was running with me and it helped. I tried to match his movements and keep on shuffling.





Julian and I arriving at Mile 95. Definitely feeling better than at Mile 90.


Mile 96: As we neared the Brooklyn Bridge the sun was rising over Manhattan. We headed across the bridge and had an incredible view of the city. Our peaceful stroll was interrupted by Ray K. and his pacers Cherie and Mary as they blew by us on the downhill. The girls slapped our asses as they passed. 


Manhattan
It was a gradual slope up towards the finish. At 6AM there were more cars on the road and we had to slow or even stop a few times before crossing. Only 40 blocks to go! I thanked my friends one more time and said one more time that I couldn't have done it without them.

We reached the finish line which was in front of Toys R' Us and dropped to do some pushups. Then we crashed in the chairs and cheered the other runners in.












Mike, Julian, Hing, Tanya and Vasili. Thank you.

Great buckle but this could use a giant gorilla. 


Link to TGNY 100 Movie


Advice for Future Runners

Leftover 2012 arrows. These saved me a few times when I couldn't find the surveyor's tape.
Running with the turn-by-turn directions is difficult. My advice would be to take the turn-by-turn maps http://www.newyorkultrarunning.org/2012_GreatRunningExp100/VengroveMap.pdf and then hand mark any changes on the maps using the current year's turn-by-turn directions. I ran 20 miles of the race by myself and used the maps. I found these much easier to follow. The surveyor's tape is very difficult to find on the city streets. Please do keep in mind that this is an intentionally low key race so the course cannot be marked as clearly as a typical trail race.

Another bit of advice for future participants is that this is a hot and humid time of year and there is almost no cover from the sun. Don't hope there will be shade like I did!

The 100 mile distance is not the only challenge to expect as it is also on pavement and concrete. As I heard from a mentor "Running 100 miles on pavement is no joke". The lack of cover, the heat and humidity and the directions are all unique challenges combined on this course. And don't make the mistake I did and assume that with almost no elevation change this course is going to be fast and easy.  

Good luck this is definitely a great race and one way to make you feel like you have seen all of Greater New York!