Aug 18, 2014

Beast of Burden 100-mile endurance run: 25:31:53 (PR)

Mile 99.99
Earlier this year, when making summer travel plans, we did something kind of funny - because I am the only guy who has to return to work, Alex and Joe could stay out in California two weeks after I left. This lets him go to camp, and me a weekend or two with no plans and no family.

Empty weekends like that are vacuums - they don't stay unoccupied for long. Immediately after I bought the plane tickets, I looked at the ultrarunning calendar to see what was up. 5 minutes later, I was registered for the Summer Beast of Burden 100-mile endurance run (hereafter referred to as "BoB")

Going to 100-mile distance is undoubtedly much easier for me than it used to be, and in a multiday race it's a foregone conclusion. But traditional 100 mile races - the kind where the 100-mile mark is the finish line - still intimidates the hell out of me. As it should, because 100-milers are f-ing hard. Despite my reputation to the contrary, I haven't finished too many of them. In fact prior to BoB my record in these races was dismal - 5 entries into 100-mile races, with one 100-mile finish. I have gone 100 miles at least 6 times in multidays (all in so-called "timed" 48 and 72-hour races), but in a traditional 100-mile race with a 30 or 36-hour cutoff, I have finished precisely one, and that was over 2 years ago, at Umstead.

Additionally, I also convinced a friend/coworker/running partner to also go up there, and run the 50-miler as her first ultra. It's perfect because the 100-miler is simply two laps of the 50-mile course (which itself is two laps of the 25-mile course), giving me the opportunity to run with her for her entire race. She agreed.

Three cheers for sombrero race swag!
Beast of Burden

The BoB ultramarathons are held twice per year in Lockport, NY, which is within 30 minutes of Buffalo. There's a summer version and a winter version. The course is along the towpath of the Erie Canal, and is the flattest course I have ever seen. It has a crushed gravel surface with a few short sections of asphalt or concrete. The course is very exposed; there is almost no shade on the entire course. It is 12.5 miles out and back, creating 25 mile loops; the 100 miler does this four times.

There are fully-stocked aid stations at the start, the halfway point (give or take), and at the turnaround. The canal runs east-west, and the course starts on the south side of the canal, runs west for one mile, crosses to the north side of the canal, then goes east for 11.5 miles before crossing to the south side of the canal again for the turnaround aid station, which is indoors.
Aid station at turnaround
Then it retraces its steps back. So at mile 23 of each lap you go right by the start/finish (people are on the shore there cheering you from across the canal), but you still have two miles to go. Each of the canal crossings (and there are four per 25-mile lap) are across drawbridges, so there are 16 times in the 100-miler where you could be held waiting for the bridge to rise or fall. (If you get there while it's up you can take a staircase across, but if it's in motion you have to wait for it to finish going up or down.)
We were held up by the bridge rising at Mile 24. Wouldn't it be a neat story if this cost me a 24-hour finish?
Lap 1 - 5:09:20
Ami (my 50-mile friend) was hit with a severe stomach bug on Thursday and was still feeling the effects of that. Concerned that she wouldn't be able to start (let alone finish), we ran the first two miles at a nice easy 11+ minute pace, and if she felt bad and wanted to drop she had the option of crossing back over a bridge shortly after mile 2 to go back to the start. I said, "If you can run two miles, you can run fifty!" A bystander overheard this and wondered where I got that logic from! She had already started feeling a bit better, so we settled into a pattern of walking about 0.15 miles, then running the rest of that mile. We kept this going all the way into the first turnaround aid station, where I filled my 100-oz camelbak reservoir with water.

On the way back, I was starting to be affected by the heat. When we reached the halfway aid station at mile 19, I should have refilled my res with ice water, but I decided to let it ride. This was a mistake.

Gold dust at my feet on the sunny side of the street canal
While the temperature was relatively mild - about 80F, the unrelenting sun and the virtually windless conditions caused me to overheat. I was sweating like crazy and it was affecting my ability to run significantly. The walk 15%/run 85% pattern was quickly deteriorating into relatively more walking, and the low-11-minute miles we were maintaining on the out were high 11s on the way back, with a few outliers in the 13s-15s. I started longing for the long, cool night that I knew was coming. Yet I had another lap to do in the heat of day.

At the end of this lap, at the aid station, I lingered for about 10 minutes until tightening up. I got the hell out of there. Shame I couldn't spend more time because they had snowcones!

Lap 2 - 5:54:00

The heat was continuing to hit me hard, and I was downright weak in the first half of this lap. We'd spend extended amounts of time walking, just trying to get as many miles as the day would allow. We pushed to the first aid station, averaging about 13 minutes per mile, and took a 5-minute break there. I filled a cup with ice and poured coke on top, then repeated several times. At this aid station I met up with a friend Al from Rochester (who parked a mile away). Tapering for the Pikes Peak Marathon the following weekend, he was interested in hanging with us for 10-15 miles, and figured that an out-and-back from the midpoint to the turnaround and back would be a sufficient little training day. Also at this point other racers latched onto us and for the next couple of hours the five of us hung out together. We probably ran about half of the distance to the next aid station, and were able to maintain sub-14 miles the whole way.

At the turnaround, I had to stop, sit, and rest for a while. According to the GPS record, I spent about 11 minutes there. Bad ultra habit! But I was starting to become concerned - despite drinking over 200oz of fluid in that period, it had been 50K since the last time I was able to take a decent piss. (Sorry, there are no photographs of me trying.) I know I was sweating a lot, but I didn't think I was sweating 200oz, and the only conclusion is that I must be retaining that water because of an electrolyte imbalance. I started taking salt.

Coming back, we were still exposed to the sun but it definitely was cooling off, and our pace showed it. We were consistently breaking 14 minute miles, and even had some sub-13s in there. By the time we reached the mid-way aid station (and Al had to leave us - thanks Al!), I was not feeling overheated anymore but still was unable to piss and was dreadfully worried that the damage had been done. I kept drinking a lot - just to the edge of nausea and not a drop more - and taking in salt pills. Also my pack was filled with ice first, followed by water+heed. Hot temps were over but I was still prone to overheating and avoiding that was utmost importance.

In the last 7 miles to the start/finish, any misery I was feeling was being replaced with excitement for Ami, who had stuck with me the whole way, was about to finish her first ultra - a 50 - in a decent time. She likes to say I paced her but I know she helped me even more. Our final seven miles together were all under 14 minutes and we even managed a sub-13 in there, until the last mile, which we did in 11:30. The 50-mile split was 11:15 - a 30 minute PR for me, and fast enough for Ami to place 19th out of 42 overall and 11th woman! Not bad, especially for her first ultra!
Congrats Ami!
Lap 3 - 6:29:03
50 down, 50 to go
I have another friend from Rochester, RJ, who agreed to pace me from the lap 3 turnaround to the lap 4 turnaround. If you're paying attention, that's miles 62.5-87.5. This was perfect. I had pacers for those exact miles at my Umstead finish in 2012. I feel like those miles are the crux of the race. The first 100K is just a formality, and the last half-marathon is a victory lap. Getting to 100K with a good attitude (and knowing my pacer was there waiting for me helped), and then getting those 25 miles behind me, are what I think gives 100s the reputation they have. In short, if you are going to have a pacer for any 25 miles in a 100, those are the 25 miles to have him in. 

However, I was still at mile 50, it was dark (9:30pm), and with Ami finishing I had to get there on my own. I was OK with this and anticipated some headphone time to break of the race a bit. After spending at least ten minutes at mile 50 aid station, I was once again running.

Or, more accurately, walking. I was moving slow at first, but settled into a rhythm in which my run/walk pattern was resulting in 14 minute miles, give or take. I was more than OK with this - 14 minute miles is definitely fast enough to finish a 100 within a 30-hour cutoff (and then some.. it'll actually get you in under 24 if literally every mile was under 14.) I was walking about half of the distance and running the other half, which was a good pattern for me - though the "run breaks" were starting to feel really long, even when they were less than a half-mile.

After midnight, I ran 1.2 miles continuously (for the streak's purposes) and that brought me within a mile of the turnaround aid station. walking the rest of the way, I saw RJ on the bridge crossing and was thrilled to not be alone anymore.

My awesome pacer and I
It was 12:30AM (right where I expected to be), and after spending 5 minutes in the aid station (still not pissing) we were on our way. I think RJ expected me to run more, but I was not in the mood. I was still on a run/walk pattern, though by now it's more accurately described as a walk/run pattern. I'd typically walk between 60%-80% of a mile, then run the rest of that mile. Meaning that as much as 4/5 of the distance was spent walking. (And, to be sure, there were a few miles which were walked entirely.)

RJ was a good sport about it though. He patiently listened to me as I droned on about how stupid 100s were, and how this is the dumbest thing I've ever done, and how I need to figure out why I'm not peeing, and whatever other stupidity I was carrying on about. To be honest I was really glad to have someone to vent to. To a pacer, I'm a low-maintenance runner, as long as listening to mindless drivel doesn't count as high-maintenance. At least I never yelled at him. But I can't imagine him ever being interested in doing a 100 after hearing me talk for so long about how much 100s suck.

At the mid-point aid station, I gave RJ my pack and asked him to run ahead to have it refilled. We had a great aid station stop there, where I was able to get in and out in less than a minute. This is ideal 100-miler behavior. 


By the end of this lap I was reduced to walking every step, and we had three consecutive 17+ minute miles. My hips in particular were bothering me, after spending 3 hours on my feet without a break. I wondered if taking a 5-minute sit break at the aid stations was helping me more than it was hurting. I decided I would find out at the next aid.

Lap 4 - 7:22:35
You want more???
I took a good long break at the mile 75 aid station. My mental attitude at this point was overwhelming dread - I felt like I had been pushing so long, but I still had a significant number of miles to go. And the idea of pushing another 25 miles was really messing with my mind. However, I was also confident I would finish. I knew that I had plenty of time - 12 hours - to complete the remaining 25 miles. A 2MPH deathmarch would be sufficient. But 2MPH deathmarches are not fun (Believe me, I know.) We eventually got out of there, and were soon counting the minutes until sunrise at 6am (though I was trying to get as far as I could before the heat came.) I knew I had done the work, most of the race was behind me, and barring disaster I would finish. I even was starting to let myself believe I would have a good time (for the record, I never let myself believe sub-24 was in the cards.)

The miles with RJ post-75 were faster - taking a break off my feet apparently helped. The 17-minute miles were largely over. But this is, like I said, the crux of the race. We didn't have any sort of consistent run/walk pattern. We'd be walking along, and I'd tell RJ "let's run for a quarter" and that's what we'd do. "Let's run a third." I think once I said "lets run a half" and that felt unbelievably long.

Thanks to the full moon, we didn't use headlamps most of the night. I love it when that happens.
By the time we got to the mid-point aid station, dawn had broke. Going by the hip experience last time, I sat down and spent another ten minutes there. When we were moving, we were moving reasonably well. But I was taking my time at aid stations and I knew it. One bright spot for this point of the race - I finally took a substantial piss, for the first time in 75 miles. It may have been dehydration after all. I was drinking a ton of water, and apparently sweating it all out.
Mile 82
After this aid station, we actually started moving better. Miles were taking about 14 minutes, which far exceeds what I'd expect for this point in the race. The trick was we decided to break the run walk pattern into half-mile increments instead of full miles. And they were broken into "walk a quarter, run a quarter." We were running half the distance! And by doing so, we did about 5 consecutive miles at this pattern. For mile 85 in a 100 this was really good for me!!
14-minute miles
Finally we reached mile 87.5, and it was time for RJ to leave. We lingered in this aid station far longer than any other - more than 20 minutes, but I was psyching myself out for the last 12.5 miles. At Umstead, the last 12.5 took almost 5 hours but I had no intention of it taking anywhere near that long today. The sun was up and it was time to put my head down and get this done. But first..
..I put my head down for real
Looking at the GPS log, I'm frankly surprised at how much time I spent in this aid station. I ate some cold pancakes and drank some hot coffee. But mostly I just hung out. I knew at this point I would finish, but it's still 12.5 slow miles away.
Typical mile 87.5 selfie
When I did walk out, I noticed that I should probably shake out some of the sand in my shoes, which hadn't been removed once the entire race so far.
Crushed cinder trail makes you want asphalt.
Side note - these shoes and socks were brand new the morning of the race.
I did eventually leave, and my first mile out of the aid station was over 18 minutes. Then I had a 17:22. Progress! I started to run a bit, and pulled out a 15:23 for mile 91. That was enough, and mile 92 was 17:21, and mile 93 was 19:00 - my second-slowest non-aid-station mile of the entire race. In mile 94 I hit the aid station, where I spent about 5 minutes. But I was eager to get out of there because the sun had come up and I was starting to feel the heat. Mile 94 was completed in 22:33. And, 4/10ths later, 10am struck - 24 hours into the race, my 94.42 mile split was a PR. I was also running again.
Notice the pace - 12:48 per mile for the 0.42 miles.
At around this point in the race, I looked over my shoulder and someone who was in the aid station with me was back there. I'm not a competitive guy, particularly in a 100, but even the most laid-back fellow isn't going to be passed in the last 5% of a race without a fight. My headphones were in, the playlist was called "run fast", and I decided I would "run a song/walk a song." This concluded the mileage-based run-walk portion of the race, now it was by random draw of a shuffled playlist.

And it showed. Mile 95 was completed in 13:54. Mile 96 was in 14:58. Mile 97 was in 14:32. Mile 98 was 14:41.... and then, the wheels came off. The sun on my back felt as hot as it ever did the previous day, and I was once again overheated. I pushed too hard the last 5 miles and was about to pay for it in a big bad way. That was the bad news.

The good news was that I had to pay for in a big bad way it for only less than two miles, and I would be finished. And that person behind me? Nowhere to be seen.

A couple of minutes after this, I see Ami bouncing up the trail. You'd have no idea she ran 50 miles the day before. She was running her running-streak mile for the day, and was planning on running it in with me. Meanwhile, I was dumping the contents of my camelbak over by head, because the need to cool off was overwhelming. I wasn't able to run at this point, and actually wouldn't run for the rest of the race (last 100 yards notwithstanding.) She out-and-backed for a mile and walked it in with me. Mile 99 in 18:26, and mile 100 (my slowest mile of the race) was 19:32. I was going so slow that I was starting to be worried that somebody'd pass me in the last quarter mile, but it turns out the the next finisher after me was more than 15 minutes after.

My official finish time was 25:31:53, which was good enough for 17th place out of 40.

5 days after the race, I "participated" in the Parsippany 12-hour, completing 1.5
miles and finishing DFL. The hard work I'm doing in this photo suggests why.
After working on this report for days, I'm writing this portion a week from Monday (T+8 days) post-race, and coming to terms with the rather surprising fact that it's going to take a month to recover from this race. Apparently, I really did a number to myself at the race. I'm noticeably lethargic throughout the day (even in my desk job) and all my runs since the race have been noticeably hard. I've felt particularly hard-hit in the mornings. It's a shame, too, because we've had some beautiful running weather this week.

For the last few miles of the race, and for days afterwards, I kept saying, "100 milers - that shit ain't right", and I meant it. But that "wrongness" of 100s is also their appeal. They challenge me in a way that no other race does. Due to my back-of-the-pack speeds I take a "pass/fail" approach to ultras. Correcting for terrain, anything shorter than 100 miles is just not long enough to be all that hard, and timed-multidays let you get away with slacking off. But 100s don't let you slack off - they're the most unforgiving and grueling race there is.

I guess this is why I looking at 100s to register for. 50 miles is my favorite distance to run, but I haven't run a 50 in years. 50 miles just does not intimidate me anymore - I can enter a 50 and be confident of my ability to finish it (barring disaster, like what happened at Pineland Farms a few years ago.) 100 milers, on the other hand, are always going to intimidate me. People like Liz Bauer who do 100 after 100 are stunning to me. 100 miles is f-ing hard! And I can't imagine 100 miles ever being easy. And when I'm at a point where I can casually enter a marathon, 50K, 50 miles, or even an ironman, without the slightest bit of intimidation or fear, I find myself attracted to races that are both frightening and achievable. 100 milers fit that profile perfectly.

At about mile 99.5, a man with an Eastern European accent ran up to me and unceremoniously said, "I hate you."

Unaccustomed to such straightforward language and able to detect sarcasm but unable to turn off my own filter (due to it being mile 99.5), I said, "What the F did I ever do to you?" (Substitute a very bad word for the F.)

"Because look at me I'm in reasonable shape and yet you are the one about to complete a 100-mile ultra! I'm not even in the 50; I'm on someone's crew!" Unspoken, but clear to me: "Because a fat F like you is doing this and I'm not!" (For the record I'm 6'6", 280lbs).

I forgot what I said afterwards. I think it was something to the effect of "and this is my fault?" but I hope I said, "well nobody's stopping you from signing up!"

I finished the race and never saw him again.