Jul 12, 2011

Three days at the fair 48-hour: 102.9 miles (PR)

My awesome pacer Marge!

I know it's counterintuitive, but the more I run the short-loop timed races, the more I enjoy them. These races give back what you put into them but also so much more. What we lose with the disadvantage of non-trails and repetition we get back in so many other ways. Time on the course melts away as we walk and run with dozens of good friends who are out there with you. The RDs can afford to put a lot more resources into one grand aid station, as opposed to a dozen more-limited aid stations. But for me personally, there's a low-pressure "let's just have fun running for two days straight" vibe to these makes for some really fond memories of pleasant weekends.

Real-deal aid stations

Back in May (over 8 weeks ago now!) I participated in the Three Days at the Fair 48-hour race at the New Jersey State Fairgrounds in Augusta. The race consists of a 0.8578 mile loop, almost completely asphalt and negligible but not unnoticeable elevation change. It is part of the McNulty Family's NJ trail race series. There are 6, 12, 24, and 48 hour races, with a new 72-hour option added this year. I ran this race in 2010, its inaugural year, where I completed something just south of 100K in the first 25 hours of the 48-hour race before going home (other obligations forced me to leave early.)

Other obligations also affected this year's race for me. I intended to sign up for the 72-hour race but was unable to get that extra day off work. That was the original constraint. Then, a few weeks before the race, I received and accepted a job offer at another company. My transition between the jobs occurred the weekend of the race - that is - my last day at my old job was the evening before the race start. I had my exit interview, said goodbye, went home to grab some camping equipment, and went straight to the race location to set up my tent. The next morning, I would be off.

The new job, however, would also affect the race. It would start on Monday morning, and the race ended Sunday morning. Wanting to be well rested for the new job, I declared before the race started that I would finish on Saturday night regardless of my mileage. This would allow me to get two decent nights worth of sleep before starting work. I would run the race like it was a 100-miler, going non-stop through the first night until I achieved the distance. I gave myself a 36-hour cutoff, figuring that by 9PM on Saturday night I would have to get some sleep or risk being a mess on Monday morning.

Tent? I don't need no stinkin' tent!

I set up my camp near the restroom and slept very well while the 72-hour runners, who started at 9 that morning, were going around me all night. At 7am I rose and relaxed, ready to get started. At 9am we were off and I was very surprised at how well I was doing against the rest of the field. Even with walk breaks every lap, it felt like I was in front of the majority of the 48-hour runners, perhaps even in the top 10. I was in fact alarmed by it, and forced myself to take some extended walking breaks even though I did not need them. But the fact of the matter was that when I was running, it was far too fast - around ten minutes per mile. By mile 20 the inevitable manifestation of going out too fast started to rear its ugly head and I backed off the pace significantly. But, at mile 23 I saw that a marathon PR was in reach, so in the spirit of "you only live once", I ran hard for that 5K and came through the marathon split in 5:30, a five-minute PR. My lap split at mile 26 was 9:09!

The next 30 miles were spent recovering from the first 25. I was in a pretty bad way after running so hard at the start and everything I might have gained I lost times three. There were two consecutive laps that took a half-hour each, followed by another 30-minute lap five laps later. There were also practical concerns. My high-quality mountain hardwear backpacking tent, which had been sitting in storage for years had fallen apart on me - the glue holding the floor to the walls dried out and was failing. I would have been fine by myself but my wife and kid were coming that day to hang out and camp, sleeping in the tent. I called her and told her to go to Costco and pick up whatever looked good to her. When she did arrive, I had to set up the tent for them, which took the better part of an hour. The first day was thus 65 laps before I finally went to sleep myself sometime after midnight.

Getting me going on day 2

I awoke after about six hours sleep and started again, doing about 20 miles worth of laps all between 14 and 25 minutes, with a long lap of two hours thrown in for good measure (sorry, don't remember why.) Writing this now nine weeks later I don't remember much about this section, except that I passed the time hanging out and talking to friends. The 24-hour runners had arrived and their fresh legs gave all of us a little extra energy, but I imagine most of this time was spent just cruising along the best we can, clicking off laps.

At some point on Saturday afternoon I saw my friend (and friend to all ultrarunners everywhere) Marge hanging around. She was coming off an injury and due to volunteer starting a midnight. After an hour or so, I saw her just standing around and invited her to walk a lap with me. Marge probably ended up doing 25 laps with me, pacing me for miles 80-100! It was totally awesome hanging out with her for this period, and while I have little memory of what we actually talked about, I do remember that we had a great time and that those last 20 miles went by quickly.

Oh, so regarding the last 20 miles. Like I said, they went by quickly. But remember when I also write I'd go only 36 hours or 100 miles, whatever comes first? Well, when I was at 90+ miles when the clock stuck 36, I definitely wasn't about to stop! Besides, I ended up sleeping that first night, which negated my main reason for needing sleep the second night. So we kept going. The last ten miles felt like they went by as fast as the first ten. After 116 laps (117=100 miles), Race Director Rick said, "Let's make lap 117 your fastest!" "I already have a nine-minute lap!" "So?" He threw the hammer and I had to catch it. I cursed Rick and took off, initially a pretty good clip, but I gradually increased the speed until I was going at a full sprint at the end. The lap was exactly 8 minutes! Marge couldn't believe it (and later said she had a hard time keeping up!)

The clock after I crossed 100 miles

The time was something like 12:30am on Sunday morning. I sat on the ground and just stayed there, probably until 1. Finally, I hobbled back to my tent and slept. Woke up the next morning and did four more nice slow laps and finished the race at 102.936 miles, which was good enough for 13th place in the 48 hour, out of 34 starters.

Immediately after lap 117 (100 miles)


  1. Steve, you were unbelievable!!! So proud of you :-)

  2. Great job Steve. It is always a pleasure to have you come out to a race. It was nice to get to know your family as well. Hope to see you guys again soon.