Javelina Jundred 2017 – Chasing The Moon

Sunrise

Spirits are up early in the race.

This is a very long report that combines the months leading up to the race and the race itself, if you want to skip ahead to the race details, you can scroll down to the section labeled The Race.

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Training
At the end of June I needed to make plans for a qualifying race for Western States.  I intended to enter the Ultra Trail Mexico 100km race in Huasca—the same race I signed up for last year but didn’t end up running due to a surgical procedure I had prior to the race (not running related).  Yet when I went to enter the race it was already full.  Now I was a bit panicked since I needed to have enough time to train for a race.  The only time frame that seemed reasonable was October since the first week of November was the cutoff for all qualifying races for Western states.  As I scoured the list of approved races, I didn’t see many options that were feasible in terms of cost of travel, distance from home, and time frame.  I planned on running a 100km race since I only had 3 months to train but the only one that really seemed to fit was the Javelina Jundred in Fountain Hills, Arizona.  Fear set in because 3 months or more accurately 14 to 15 weeks of training did not seem like it was sufficient to prepare for a 100 miler.  I took the plunge thinking that even under trained, I only needed to finish the race within 30 hours.  Considering I finished the Keys 100 in 20:28, I could walk a good portion of this race and still finish in time.

Prerace

3am and ready to go.

My running had been pretty focused from January through May but as May finished and June rolled around, travel and life events started eating into my regular training.  To prepare for this race, I looked at my training log for the Keys 100 and set up a detailed plan that steadily ramped up my weekly distance as well as my long runs.  The plan focused on three 4 week training blocks that would ramp up for 3 weeks and decline in the 4th week.  

About to Start

Waiting for the start.

Everything went to plan for the first three weeks until a fateful Sunday on July 16th.  I was running 20km on a mainly flat trail in the mountains near my home but at 9.5km, the trail drops dramatically by around 100m.  I descended just fine, turned around at the 10km mark, and ascended back up the incline.  Just as I was reaching the top of the hill I felt a sharp pain in a straight line up my left medial gastrocnemius muscle (inner upper calf).  As soon as it happened I knew something was seriously wrong.  I had never had such acute pain while running before.  The issue now was that I was 10km from my car in a remote part of this forest mountain trail.  I figured out a way to use a modified stride to run back but I had to be very careful not to put too much pressure on my left calf.  When I got back to the house, the pain did not subside and just touching the muscle hurt tremendously.  

Squirrel Nut Butter

Anyone see a squirrel?

The next morning I needed to travel for work.  Luckily I was traveling to Merida, Mexico a city where I used to live.  I contacted the physiotherapist I knew and the clinic was able to see me that day.  They examined me and immediately recommended I get an MRI.  Being the obsessed person I am, I had investigated throughout the day on Monday and had a hunch that I had a grade 1 or 2 tear of my medial gastrocnemius—most likely a grade 2.  My MRI revealed that I did have a grade 2 tear which meant I couldn’t run for 4-6 weeks.  I was very worried now.  How the heck was I supposed to prepare for a 100 miler on a condensed schedule already that will now cut another 4-6 weeks of running?

Motivation

One of the many posters Karina made.

After some contemplation, I decided I couldn’t fight reality and would concentrate on what I could control.  I did some research on power/speed walking, read some articles, and watched some YouTube videos.  My decision, after verifying with the physiotherapist, was to practice power walking during the weeks without running.  When I got back to Mexico City and met with an orthopedic doctor, she confirmed no running for 6 weeks and I had to go to 3 sessions per week for those 6 weeks of rehabilitation.  Quite a setback indeed but I was determined to follow the doctor’s instructions and not screw things up by rushing back.

On the trail

Staying focused.

Over the next 6 weeks, I never missed a rehabilitation session, did my stretching and prescribed exercises at home, and power walked 5-6 days per week.  I ended up walking 70-90 km per week during this time.  A funny thing happened as I continued to walk so much, my efficiency steadily improved to the point that I was able to walk at a speed equal to a slow run/jog.  This made me happy because I felt like in a serendipitous way, I gained a new skill set that could help me tremendously in a 100 mile ultra—the ability to walk much faster than most.  I remember at the Keys 100, my walking was a key to my success because I passed many other runners late who were also walking but much slower.  Beyond that, I knew it was good to focus on the positive and not dwell on the things that I couldn’t control.

Crew

Best crew ever.

Come September, I was given the green light to do 30 minutes of running to test out the calf.  The first test run was a bit scary and it felt weird running again because I had a lot of trepidation that the injury would return.  Luckily it did not.  I reported back to the clinic that all went well and I proceeded over the next two weeks to transition from the majority of the time power walking to the majority of the time running.  As a result of this injury, I did alter my my stride slightly on uphills.  Normally when I ran uphill my heels wouldn’t touch the ground but now I went slower allowing my heels to completely touch the ground to reduce pressure on my calves.  

Little Hot

A little hot out there.

As a side note, I tried to figure out how I injured myself.  The best I can gather is that in early June I went out for a 30km run and woke up the next day with pain in the back of my knee.  It seems the pain was a case of tendinitis on the tendon that attaches to the top of the calf muscle I injured.  I thought it healed because I monitored it closely and after 4 weeks it seemed to have gone away.  However, the day before I injured myself, I did a hard run in the mountains—3.5 hours with tons of elevation gain.  The next day when I went out for the the 20km run where I injured myself I noticed the tendinitis pain return a bit.  I suppose that I needed more rest after that hard mountain run and my calf was simply too tight.  When I went up the hill the calf just gave out and tore.

tarahumara.jpg

Karina with some Tarahumara.

During September I modified my training plan to reduce my weekly distance (100-120km per week vice 130-160km as previously planned).  I had a handful of 3-5 hour runs programmed with one huge training run of 74km to give me a feel of where my fitness was for the 100 miler.  All the running went well leading up to the race.  I made sure not to push too hard.  The first long run of 3 hours was humbling because I hit the wall only after 2 hours and slogged the last hour.  Yet as the weeks progressed I noticed my strength returning.  I did my 74km run 5 weeks out from the Javelina Jundred to give myself enough time to fully recover.  That run went quite well which gave me confidence that I’d at least be able to run a good portion of the 100 miler.  I didn’t start tapering quite as early like I did for the the Keys 100.  Instead I ran my full training load until two weeks before the race.  The week before the race, I reduced the distance by 20%.  The week of the race I did runs of 9, 8, and 5km.  I had two reasons for not doing a 3-4 week taper.  First, I couldn’t afford to back off since I already lost 6 weeks of running.  Second, I felt like the taper period lasted too long the first time and that it really wasn’t necessary to back off so much.

Supplies

Where’d that magic potion go?

Another side effect from the injury was to reset my race expectations.  Originally I wanted to beat my 20:28 time making a sub 20 my A goal.  My B goal was sub 24.  My C goal was to simply finish under 30 to make sure I qualified for the Western States lottery.

Off and Running

Keeping the eye on the prize.

Race Preparation 
I am a detailed oriented person.  In preparation for my first 100 miler I made spreadsheet that was a checklist of all supplies, gear, activities, and race day things I needed to do.  I modified it a bit based upon things I had learned in the subsequent two years but it was more or less the same.  That definitely made packing and prep much easier.  I also made timing sheets — one small one that I’d carry with me during the race to help me know what I needed to do at various sections of the race and one double sided chart to give to my wife as my crew with my plan A and plan B so she’d have an idea where and when I’d be throughout the race.  I’m not quite sure why, but as I made these timing sheets, I decided to alter my plan A to shoot for an 18 hour race and plan B for a 19 hour race.  As I’m writing this report now, I don’t really know what possessed me to not only forget about my post injury revised plan A/B but shoot for even better times than my pre injury plan A/B.  I simply told my wife that I may as well shoot for the stars and give myself a huge challenge rather than just sit back and semi-give up before the race even started.  It’s crazy, I know, since I never had come close to an 18 hour pace in such long distances.

Desert

Arizona desert.

Pre Race Days
We arrived to Phoenix on Thursday with the race start on Saturday.  As we went to pick up our luggage at the airport, I turned to my wife and said, “Now’s the moment of truth” referring to our suitcases.  As I grabbed our first suitcase I glanced at my phone that had a message stating 1 of 2 suitcases arrived.  OH NO!  The other suitcase was still in Los Angeles and that, of course, was my suitcase with all my gear, supplies, clothes, etc.  I was not a happy camper.  We proceeded to make our claim and then pray to the Aztec gods that it would show up that night at the hotel.  Otherwise Friday would be a crazy day of running around Phoenix trying to buy everything I needed.

Race Expo

The famous saguaro cactus.

When I awoke Friday morning, I immediately went to the front desk of the hotel and luckily the suitcase arrived!  Whew–now I could concentrate on getting checked into the race and relax the best I could.  Once I started seeing other runners at the hotel, however, I started to have a bit of panic and feelings of not belonging.  All the other runners seemed to be super fit, focused, and practically pros whereas I felt a bit like a fraud and out of place.  This has happened to me at all 3 of the races I’ve been in.  I think it’s partly due to the fact that I run 98% of the time by myself and partly due to the fact my self-image still has an ingrained concept of myself from 10 years ago when I was 70lbs/30kgs heavier and at my unhealthiest point in my life.  

Supplies

What else do I need?

My wife and I went to the race expo, picked up my bib and goodies.  We browsed around, bought a few items, and stopped at the massage both.  I figured this might be a good opportunity for me to calm my pre-race jitters.  I bought a 15 minute massage for my wife and me.  As soon as the lady started on my back/shoulders I could feel that I was extremely stressed out.  This 15 minute massage changed everything for me.  After it was over, I relaxed for the first time since arriving to Arizona and my mood calmed as well.

The rest of the day was filled with small preparation errands as well as simple light foods (veggies/fruits/tofu).  That night we had dinner at the hotel and I tried to get to sleep as soon as possible (9pm).  I set the alarm for 3am but with nerves I ended up waking up for a couple bathroom breaks and by 2:15am, I was up for good.

lap 4

Got to stay positive

Race Day
I got all my gear on and packed up the supplies.  I drank a simple vegetable protein shake with some turmeric as well as a chia gel for some calories to start the day.  I’ve found in the past that I do not want a lot of food in my stomach from the day before nor from breakfast.  I train week after week with a pretty empty stomach so my strategy is to do the same thing as in my training and consume the calories I need while running.  I had one cup of coffee and tried to do all the bathroom business I could to avoid any “issues” while in the race.  Right before leaving the hotel I took some Imodium to ensure I wouldn’t be looking for a nearby cactus due to intestinal issues.

Once we arrived to the starting area around 5am, we staged my two drop bags–one at the start and one that would be at the halfway point of the loop at the aid station named Jackass Junction.  We went over the race plan one more time, took some pictures, said some jokes, and awaited the start.  In comparison to the Keys 100, I was surprisingly calm with barely any nerves at all.  In fact, I was really ready to get the show on the road.  I ran a quick loop around the start area about 15 minutes before the start to loosen the legs up.  After that I stood near the start line to try to avoid being caught behind hundreds of runners in the beginning of the race.  I read that the first 1-2km of the trail are pretty narrow and if you are in the middle to back the pace will be practically walking.  I did not want that to happen because I had a different strategy to go out faster than my first 100 miler where I held back quite a bit.

The Race
At 6am 535 runners departed from the start chute.  The beginning area wraps around the camp sites, main aid station, and eventually spits you out on the actual trail.  I think I was in the group of the first 40 people.  In my first 100 miler, I used my heart rate as my limiter as to how fast I would run.  I tried to keep it in the 140s and due to that fact I ran at a pace that was quite a bit slower than I wanted.  In this race and because of the experience I have gained over the two years since, I decided to pay attention to my heart rate but also use my perceived exertion and my breathing rate to dictate how fast I would go.  I figured that I could sustain long stretches keeping my heart rate in the 150s.  After about 2-3km, the group of runners started opening up and the trail had a lot more space.  I took this opportunity to pick up the pace.

Moving

Keep on keepin’ on.

Another side note: My strategy was to break the race up into quarters or 40km each.  In each quarter of the race, I had an average pace goal.  Each 40km would progressively slow so I built that into my pacing goals.  The course itself is a loop which we repeat 5 times with the first loop having a slightly longer extra part built in.  Loop one is 35.9km/22.3mi and loops two through five are 31.3km/19.45mi.  It has a total elevation gain of 2409m/7900ft.  You essentially are on an aggregate incline to the far point of the loop and downhill coming back to the front.  The tricky part is that some of the inclines are imperceivable but you notice your pace reducing.  After each loop you reverse course and go back the way you came.  It’s an interesting feature of the race because your are constantly passing other runners making it more social than a point to point ultra and by reversing course you are seeing everything from the opposite point of view.  That helps you from getting bored and feeling like you are just doing the same thing over and over again.

hot

It was roasting

Back to the race:  Arriving at the first aid station “Coyote Camp” I was keeping the pace that I needed.  I filled my two water bottles and got out in under 2 minutes.  I used a hydration vest for storing my supplies but decided I was going to try to avoid using the water bladder unless I really needed to.  I thought that with my two water bottles which held a ½ liter each, that it would be enough for me to get to each aid station.  That strategy turned out to be correct.  The reason I didn’t want to fill the hydration vest with water is that it adds another 5-6lbs of weight.  Over 100 miles that would require a significant increase in energy expenditure.

The next section from Coyote Camp to Jackass Junction is the longest segment between aid stations 10.4km/6.5mi.  It’s also the roughest section with several very rocky portions where you definitely have to watch your step or else you’ll take spill.  In fact I heard of one older runner who had a serious fall in that section and had to be taken to a hospital.  As I navigated this section my pace picked up a little more.  I had good conversation with another runner who ended up finishing 8th in the race.  He ran an amazingly well paced race.

skel

I hoped I wouldn’t turn into that guy.

As I arrived to Jackass Junction, I filled water bottles again, grabbed some food from my drop bag and was off again.  Crossing the timing mat, I was 35th.  On the back half the loop and with the downhills ahead, I pushed the pace some more and was running at clips of 5:10min/km to 4:55min/km.  It felt good to run at that pace.  I had slight worries that maybe it was too much but I quickly eliminated those thoughts and reminded myself that this race was a perfect opportunity to experiment and find out what I could do.  I didn’t want to feel like I was too conservative after finishing this race.  As we made our way down to Rattlesnake Ranch, I had passed several other runners.  I got in and out quickly and set off for the the end of loop one.  At this point, the sun had got to a point in the sky where the temperatures were starting to rise significantly.

I really wasn’t too concerned about the heat since I had run extremely hot and humid race before, I had lived in a very hot tropical environment for two years, and I really don’t mind the heat.  Plus in this part of the country, there was absolutely no humidity.  That would help to cool the skin since the sweat would evaporate vice just stay on your skin.  I wore a singlet along with white arm sleeves.

As I arrived to the start/finish area, I surprised my wife since I was there 18 minutes prior to my predicted time for my A goal (3:18 total time).  I handed all my gear to her so she could refill my water and supplies while I ran to the timing mat.  I got back to the aid station area where my wife was and she was so happy for me.  She showed me one of the great motivational posters she designed, gave me a big hug, took some pictures with me and sent me on my way.

Going out on loop 2 back to Rattlesnake Ranch, I quickly realized that my wife didn’t see the other water bottle I had tucked in a front pocket of my vest.  My fault completely for not showing her where it was.  The good news was that the aid station was closer this time since loop 2 had a shorter total distance.  Ultimately I ran out of water with less than 10 minutes to the aid station so no big deal indeed.

The slight uphill to the back of the course was a lot more difficult this time now that I had run over 40km.  Leaving out of Jackass Junction I had the long section with lots of rocks and wouldn’t you know it, I was checking my watch for something and BOOM–down goes Avery.  I caught the bulk of my fall with the palms of my hand but I also fell to the left hitting my hip and back.  I got up dusted myself off, checked for any serious injury or dropped supplies.  Besides some cuts on my hand and elbow I was good to go.  From there on out I was much more careful with my steps knowing that the later in the race it got, the harder it is to lift your feet.

I finished loop 2 in 3:16 for a total time of 6:34.  I had also PRd my 50k time in a race by quite a lot with a 4:50 time.  Things were looking very positive so far.

avery jj100-02

Loop 3 was the repeat of Loop 1 minus the longer final quarter.  This time it was much hotter reaching the high temperature of the low 90s F or 32-34 C.  As I was ascending the hills towards the back of the loop my speed started dropping markedly.  I ran with for a while and was passed by the overall female winner of the race Larisa Dannis.  Closer to Jackass Junction the same thing happened to me with the 2nd overall female finisher Dana Anderson.  Both of these ladies were so positive and encouraging.  They were incredible in their consistent pacing.  As I was fading a bit, they kept on going.  It reminded me of the old Energizer Bunny commercials in the 80s where they were the Energizer batteries and I was the off-brand battery.  Passing through Jackass Junction and using the aggregate downhill helped instill a little more confidence after a little less than 2 hours of a fading pace.  

The total time for loop 3 was 3:44 which meant I ran 27 minutes slower than loop 2.  I had lost all the extra time I banked early in the race and was slightly behind my A goal now.  Starting loop 4 meant Karina, my super wife, crew, cheering section, and overall hero, was going to run with me to the first aid station at Rattlesnake Ranch.  As we headed out, I noticed I was in some definite trouble in terms of flexibility and pain in my legs.  I had a very hard time opening up my stride and there was some mounting pain near my kneecaps.  The best I could figure was that my quads were tightening up severely.  I also had a little bit of pain in my hip to groin area when I had to take any steeper inclined steps with my right leg.  Karina pulled out every trick in the book to cheer me up–from jokes, to videos from my daughters, to even tickling me, she was a real trooper.  We arrived to the aid station and I knew I was hosed for my A goal and I let her know.  My pace couldn’t even reach anything faster than 7min/km and according to my pacing charts, I needed to run around a 6:30min/km.  The problem was that I simply couldn’t muster any quicker turnover in my feet nor the strength to move faster.  I felt like I was stuck in first gear.  This happened to me in the second half of the Keys 100 when all I could do was alternate running and walking until I reached the end.  The upshot of this day was that I was strong enough to barely have to walk.

When I reached Jackass junction for the 4th time, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, dejected, and slightly disoriented.  The fatigue from the day really sunk in, the disappointment of fading so quickly from my A and possibly B goal was bothering me, and I just wanted to run faster.  I got out of there and headed back down the trail through the rocky section once more.  At this point it was dark and I was using my waist lamp.  I definitely was very careful not to eat it again on the rocks.  Because this was a washing-machine style race I was passing runners going the other way, going my way, and being passed as well.  I could tell for the most part who was who but the closer I got back to the start/finish line, the less accurate my assumptions were.  It felt as if I faded very far back in the race.  At 8:34pm I arrived at the start/finish line for the 4th time.  It took me 4:15 to complete that loop and 32 minutes more than loop 3.  I was not happy.

aid station

Now was the time of reckoning.  Karina was about to run another segment with me after she did all the crewing and aid station work I needed.  She could see I was in distress and offered me some ibuprofen for the second time.  I didn’t mention it earlier in this report but prior to lap 4 she offered me some but I generally avoid all pain medication, especially when running/racing.  She had been spending time with the crew and wife of another runner I met.  Apparently the wife of this runner had a medical background and explained that I was having quite a bit of inflammation and that a single dose of ibuprofen was not going to cause the damage I was so worried about.  I had heard many horror stories of runners with kidney failure in races because of ibuprofen and I did not want that to happen to me.  However, as a good runner should do, I listened to my crew since she was much more sane and capable of thinking than I was.  I consumed the ibuprofen with some water and we were off.

Wouldn’t you know that after about 20 minutes of running, I started feeling better.  I felt a little lighter on my feet, I was cracking jokes, smiling, and just felt like things were improving.  We rolled into Coyote Camp and Christmas music was playing.  It was awesome.  I grabbed some supplies, kissed my lovely wife goodbye and headed off into the wilderness feeling renewed.  For the first time I decided to listen to some music to distract me.  Using DJ mixes I had, I queued one up that really made me feel good in the past and the next thing I know I’m singing out loud as I went up the gradual hill to the back half of the loop.  As the kilometers clicked off, my speed kept increasing.  The only glitch I hit was when my waist lamp was losing juice.  I didn’t realize that it only had around a 4-5 hour battery life at full power.  The tricky part was that in order to change batteries I had to remove the other one.  It had a screw cap but with a tricky pin insert you had to align with the lamp tube.  Once I turned off the lamp it was quite dark.  I slid the battery into the tube and tried to screw the cap back on but it wouldn’t turn on.  UGH!  No panicking yet…What to do??  Using my logic, I figured that if I tilted the tube forward putting the small hole, where the pin was to align, closest to the ground, I could use gravity to help align the pin in the cap.  I took a deep breath, screwed it on, hit power and voila–LET THERE BE LIGHT!

refill

I hit Jackass Junction just as happy as could be.  I encouraged several runners sitting there to keep pushing.  I was giving pats on the backs and high fives.  What was going on with me I thought?  I couldn’t stop smiling.  Grabbing my final supplies out of my drop bag, I passed the timing belt and headed down the back half of the trail for the final time.

Now things were really getting fun.  I felt a certain momentum building from within.  Little by little I continued to push the pace.  I passed several runners who were in front of me but were reduced to walking.  I understood exactly what they were going through from being there myself in other races but for some reason it wasn’t me in this race.  They call this reeling people in and passing the carnage.  Rattlesnake Ranch was visible in the distance but the trail was quite winding so it took longer to get there than the crow flies.

I stayed barely a minute at the aid station only filling up on water.  Looking back, I still had a full bottle of water in my vest so I didn’t need to stop there at all.  It was only 6.5km to the finish line.  Now is where I wanted to drop the hammer as the elites say. I upped my pace as best I could and I felt like I was flying.  I continued to pass people coming and going and rarely saw anybody running.  After about 15-20 minutes I could see the glow of the lights of the finish line.  I could smell the end of the race. I also looked over a large hill and saw the moon was still up.  Prior to the race, I told my wife that I would race the moon meaning I wanted to finish before the moon set (around 1am I think).  I called it my quest to Chase the Moon.  In my happiness of the moment I had a conversation with that moon to explain who won the race between him and me.  Mind you I was actually talking out loud…but who cares…I do some strange things late in races to entertain myself.

avery jj100-04

Finally I approached the start/finish camp.  The first thing I did was look for me wife.  She was nowhere to be found so I tried my best to sprint around the chute leading up to the finish line.  I was passing people all over the place and probably looked like a lunatic running so hard.  Yet a funny thing happened, it seemed to charge up the crowd and everyone was cheering loud for me.  Then I did what I dreamed for months, I crossed the finish line—at 12:12am!  Final time 18 hours and 12 minutes.  The final lap took me 3:37 meaning I ran it 38 minutes faster than loop 4 and 6 minutes faster than loop 3.  Amazing!  I had no idea I had that capability inside of me.  It surprised me more than anyone.

I left the finish area and headed back to where my drop bag was–still no wife.  Looking towards the trailhead area, I spotted her waiting at the gates with the crowd looking for me to come in.  We apparently missed each other as I came around the chute.  She went from the finish line to the trailhead as I went through the chute to the finish line.  After hugs and kisses, we headed to the finish line again to take pictures together to capture the happy moment forever.

Looking back on this race makes me very happy.  I learned that I now have the capacity to run almost all of a 100 miler and have the ability after 90 miles to pick up my pace to levels I ran in miles 20-40.  Listening to your crew is an important lesson as well.  In my mind I hit my A goal and 18:12 for 100 miles for a guy who 10 years ago couldn’t run a mile and was extremely overweight is something I’m very proud of.  I think 5 or 6 of the top finishers are pro runners and 12th place among 535 starters is not too shabby.  

Done

Done and done!

The other interesting thing about this whole adventure was the fact that I had to take 6 weeks off from running in the middle of my training.  I returned to running with less than 8 weeks until the race.  I’m still trying to distill what that meant.  The best I can guess is that the power-walking helped my base fitness, the lower volume weeks kept me from overtraining, and when I came back from running I was very focused on trying to maximize my training days while making sure to build in true rest days around my long training runs.

Success

We did it!

So that’s my long winded report…for those that stuck with it until the end, you have a taste of the patience it takes to run an ultra.  I want to give a big thanks to Justin and Candice for giving my wife a slice of your popup tent during the race.  Another big thanks goes to my family for putting up with my craziness and for supporting me.  My friends were very encouraging leading up to and during the race.  The race director, staff, and volunteers were awesome.  Yet the biggest thanks has to go to my wife, crew, running mate, best friend, and superhero Karina.  None of this ever happens without her.  She has a special gift of bringing the best out of me despite my crazy ways and stubbornness.

Buckle

Sub 24 hour buckle.

Lap 1 – 35.9km/22.3mi – 3:18 – 5:33min/km – 24th place
Lap 2 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:18 – 6:17min/km – 23rd place
Lap 3 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:43 – 7:09min/km – 19th place
Lap 4 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 4:15 – 8:11min/km – 18th place
Lap 5 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:37 – 6:58min/km – 12th place
Total – 161.1km/100.1mi – 18:12 – 6:47min/km 10:55min/mi – 12th place

Race Accomplishments:
100 mile PR – 18:12
100 km PR – 10:48
50 mi PR – 8:23
50 km PR – 4:47

 

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2016 Bandera 100k Race Report

bandera buckle

The Finisher’s Buckle

Summary
“Sometimes you bite off more than you can chew but somehow, some way you must find a way to make it work.”

The Bandera 100k is a two loop course through the Texas Hill Country.  It is not at high elevation but over the course (according to my Garmin) you gain over 2200m/7200ft.  There are parts that consist of double track, single track, rocky single track, tough rocky ascents and descents, and portions that simply were not runable for me.  Rocks, rocks, and more rocks would be the best way I could describe this race.

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

The race itself is very well organized.  The race director provided very useful information. The course (except for a wind-blown portion at night) was very well marked.  The aid station volunteers were the best. They were so positive and supportive.  Since I had no crew on this trip, I relied on them heavily.  I really can’t say enough positive things about them. If you ever want to run races in Texas, check out Tejas Trail events.

Trail

Some of the terrain I’d be facing

Leading up to this race, I started training in September.  I put in a three part training regimen that got progressively more difficult with harder weekly speed work sessions along with treadmill ascent/descent workouts.  I ran on abandoned railroad tracks to try to simulate uneven terrain.  I felt pretty strong coming into the race having completed one of my best long training runs of my life (71km in 6:45) only 3-4 weeks prior.  However, the day before the race I did a small training run on the beginning of the course and had to reset my expectations when I saw how difficult the terrain would be for me.  The rocky condition was something I was completely unfamiliar with and had no opportunity to train on living in the flat Yucatan in Mexico.  This would be my first trail ultra and second ultramarathon.

1

Race Start
It was a cold morning when the race started with temperatures around 5°C/41°F.  It actually wasn’t too cold for me once we got started but waiting around I found myself fighting off the shivers. When we took off from the start, I was in between the front and the middle of the pack.  The path to the first aid station begins with some easy double track.  Yet I knew that this would only last minutes before I had to deal with some rocky climbs that required walking/hiking.  After getting to the top of a plateau, we had to drop down to the backside and this section also introduced me to the evil sotol plant.  It looks like a smaller cousin to the agave cactus but it has sharp teeth on the edge of the leaf.  These plants lined many portions of the course and slice your legs as you run by piercing your skin with tiny little punctures.  By the time I got to the first aid station named Nachos, I had blood running down both legs and it would repeat throughout the day.  It hurt but not too bad, just enough to be quite annoying.  I hit the first aid station about 10 minutes slower than I wanted to–foreshadowing of the day to come.

Not a nice plant

The Sotol–not a nice plant

Ouch

Ouch

At this point, I took off my windbreaker, filled up on some Tailwind, and got out of the aid station in 2.5 minutes.  For the most part I kept my aid stations stops efficient.  They were generally between 1-3 minutes with the two longer ones, of 5-6 min, due to refilling my hydration pack and to get my headlamp and windbreaker back on as the sun was setting.

More climbing

More climbing

The next section was supposed to be a faster and flatter by what I read and was told, but it still went slower for me due to my inexperience with running on jagged large rocks.  I felt like I had to run more tenuously than I wanted. In fact, during this portion, my frustration began to mount.  I wanted to “open up” the engine and fly but instead I had to hold back on this terrain.  Arriving at the Chapas aid station, I checked the watch to see I was so far behind the pace I wanted that even hitting my C goal was going to be tough.  I already threw out my A goal the day before on my training run and my B goal was toast when I saw how slow it took me to get to the first aid station.  My mind was not happy.

sunken trail

Coming out of Chapas, it should have been my true chance to fly because of the relatively flat dirt track.  I stress SHOULD have been.  Instead this was the portion where my knees began to ache. First my left one, via what felt like IT band issues, and then my right began to hurt worse and in a larger area.  By the time I hit the 3 hour mark, I was in considerable pain and started questioning this whole endeavor.  What kind of race is this where I’m already wondering why I’m doing it and we have only run for 3 hours??!!  I arrived at the Crossroads 1 aid station in a bad state of mind.  I refilled and began the section which probably ruined any chance of having the ability to make up time.

Up we go

Up we go

It was a very rugged section of terrain with–wait for it–more rocks and two tough climbs.  Again I felt myself simply trying to bound side to side on large and small rocks and not fall/die.  When you finish, it takes you to the Crossroads 2 aid station–which is the same as Crossroads 1 but on the other side of it.  My arrival this time had me at a whole new level of pain in my knees.

Countryside

Rolling trail

Leaving Crossroads 2 and for the next hour or so, I deeply contemplated dropping out of the race.  I even wished that I did fall, had a more acute injury, or maybe have some animal attack me, just something that would give me a good excuse to stop.  I went deep into the dark recesses of my mind and thoughts.  I played out different scenarios of how to drop.  If I didn’t get that animal attack I desired, I entertained the idea of just doing the 50km race.  The race director stated that if you signed up for the 100km, you could do 50km and stop and have your time count as part of the 50km race.  Hmmm, maybe this was doable for me.  Then I thought of my daughters, Fiona and Gianna, and their shining faces when they talk about Daddy’s races.  How could their hero look them in their face and tell them he didn’t finish his race?  How could I be a man of my word if I stopped because I didn’t get the result I wanted?  This loop of negative “I feel sorry for myself” thoughts replayed several times as I ascended one hell of a climb which of course was followed by a technical descent.  While on the ascent, I struggled to even hike a few of the huge stone steps ranging 2-3 feet in height.  I commented to some other runners that I have no idea how I’m going to be able to do this the second time in the dark.  I arrived at the Last Chance aid station filled up and set out for the end of the first loop.

Up

This last section puts you through another tough rocky climb and back to the plateau from the beginning of the race eventually forcing another painful, technical descent onto the only portion that I truly enjoyed–the double track to the start/finish line.  I think it was in this section that I realized I had been cursing more this day than I had in the past few years combined.  I am a father of three lovely daughters and work hard to watch what I say but if one were to have heard me they may have mistaken me for an old school military man.  I wanted all the rocks to be eradicated from the face of the Earth.  They were the bane of my existence.  I hit the halfway point of the race in 5:57:28–roughly an hour slower than I had wanted.

7

A funny thing happened while I refilled my supplies and headed back out–I never considered stopping.  I was in the middle of the ascents in the first portion of the course before I realized I forgot about the silly idea of quitting.  My knees didn’t get any better but I think my brain figured out that I wasn’t going to give in to the idea of dropping so it stopped bothering me with the idea.  While my mind was in a better state, the fact of the matter was that I continued to slow on the technical portions of the course.  It took me 20 minutes longer to reach the Nachos aid station the second time.

3

From Nachos to Chapas, I think I started to get a bit “lazy”.  What I mean is that a handful of times, I ended up behind a some runners who would descend faster than I but on the climbs and flats I would catch back up.  Instead of asking to pass and run my own pace, I simply tailed them which meant I was going about 10% slower than I would have normally run.  Looking back I think I did this one or two times more in the second half of the race.  I think in my fatigued state, my mind enjoyed going at a more leisurely pace and I zoned out.  Finally it dawned on me to stop this nonsense, ask to pass, and go.  Each time I did, I never ended up seeing those runners again. Who knows how much time I lost by not pushing my way though?  Definitely food for thought in the future.

downhill

The next segment, Chapas to Crossroads 1, was another portion that I wish I could have run without knee pain.  Like the first time I came through, I just kept thinking about how it would be nice to really let loose and run with authority.  Instead I let my knee pain reduce my stride to a quasi-shuffle thus reducing my speed.  I came into the aid station pretty much fed up with this ongoing pain.  My coach was waiting for me there and was asking me how I was doing.  He said I looked good…I laughed!  After explaining to him what had been happening, he suggested some changes to my running mechanics.  Amazingly enough I shot out of the aid station with much more spring in my step.  The slight change to my stride helped reduce some of the pain and I was able to pick up the pace.

4

The second time through Crossroads 1 to Crossroads 2 was a small success for me.  I was able to complete it in the exact same time as the first pass.  I don’t know if it was a matter of getting out of the aid station with a faster pace or the fact I knew I just wanted to finish but somehow I pushed through more efficiently.  During this segment I ran a bit with the winner for the 55-59 age group.  We ran over half the section together and the chatting helped quite a bit.  I think this was his 7th time running the race. My hats off to him for running this thing so many times.

Rolling along

Coming out of Crossroads 2, it was already dark.  You could imagine that with it being my first time on this rugged terrain with only a headlamp for light that things would be precarious at best.  This was also the section I dreaded the first time because it had such a steep incline and decline plus I had to do it again at night.  Wouldn’t you know that I completed it 2 minutes faster than the first time?  I think the fact that it was dark and I couldn’t see how high I had to climb and how far I had to descend kept me from overthinking.  Finishing this portion, 11 hours and 45 minutes had going by since the start of the race.  Now my personal goal was to finish under 13 hours.

Hill View 1

From Last Chance aid station to the end, I was pretty much in a robotic mode of just get the race done.  It was tough terrain summiting the same plateau from beginning of the course but I kept pushing and passed a few runners.  With only 3 km/2mi to go, I started to wonder if I ran off course.  The entire course has lots of arrows and ribbons with reflectors yet I hadn’t seen one in a good 10-15 minutes.  I started looking at the ground for footprints.  I found a muddy section but the only prints I saw were that of a mountain lion or bobcat–not what I was looking for nor did I want that animal attack any more!!!  After a few more minutes full blown panic set in.  I stopped, turned off my headlamp, and looked around.  I saw no lights behind me or in front of me.  I couldn’t hear the finish line.  Was I off course?  Was I lost?  This is not what I wanted after almost 13 hours of the race.  I decided to backtrack and either find a course marking where I went off course or another runner.  After about 3-4 minutes I found a runner and confirmed with him that this was the right way.  I ended up pulling away from him but still didn’t see a marker that he swore was there–I started to doubt this runner. Finally after another 10 minutes I saw a reflective ribbon. Ten minutes was probably lost during this error of mine.  I pushed down the difficult descent to the last stretch of dirt trail. I looked at my watch and it read 12:54. Time to fly! I really wanted a sub 13 time–just some sort of goal to be met since none of my original goals were achieved.  As I got closer to the finish line, I could see the clearing and went for it. I ran the last half of a kilometer at a 4 min/km pace and flew across the finish line.  I looked back at the clock and it read 12:58:39. A small victory for me to end the day!

unnamed

Permanently etched in my memory.

Wrap Up
Like many have said before, each race, each adventure teaches us something new.  This race was no different.  First and foremost, I had a large dose of reality and humble pie regarding terrain and specificity of training.  I spent the last four months training for this race.  I got stronger, faster, and built more endurance than I have ever had in my life.  Yet when it was all said and done, I felt like I arrived to a new country with pockets full of cash but in the wrong currency.  The currency needed for this course was that of running on rocky ascents and descents and I had none of it.  Had this been dirt trails with no rocks, I can confidently say I think I could have finished at least two hours faster.  I will not choose races in the future where I don’t have access to the same terrain or sufficient alternative means to match the conditions.

This reinforced the value in sticking with it no matter how dark things get in your mind.  You can power through those moments and find what it takes to reach the finish line.  It may not be in the time you would have hoped but the experience is something you will grow from and use the rest of your life.  Not that I didn’t respect the top ultra runners out there but after experiencing this course up close and personal, it gave me an even deeper appreciation for those runners who can practically fly on this terrain.

Looking back on my numbers from the race, I see evidence that I was in good condition. The fact that I ran a few sections at the end at the same pace or faster than the first loop tells me that my base fitness is good.  The final half kilometer “sprint” tells me that I still had plenty of strength to endure.

The day after the race my spirits were remarkably high.  I was able to recognize that I did accomplish something special.  One hundred kilometers is not your standard walk in the park.  It is something that, no matter your skill level at running, requires plenty of training, patience, and perseverance.  I will seek out some more adventures this year albeit races in which I can be adequately prepared.

Comparing my two ultramarathons, I would say that the Bandera 100k is harder than the Keys 100.  Even though the Keys 100 is 61km farther, my body didn’t suffer in the same manner as in Bandera.  The good news is now I’ve run my very first qualifier for Western States which means I can officially put my name in the lottery for the 2017 race.

2015 Keys 100 Race Report

Keys 100Let me start this report by stating the following:
1.  The Keys 100 was the first race of my life.
2.  It was my first attempt at a 100 miler.
3.  This is the first report I’ve written–so bear with me.

Preface

It had been a long journey to reach the starting line of this race. I had a very typical backstory of a former school athlete (baseball in high school and into college) who eventually started his career and got more and more out of shape. By the time I hit age 31, I was tipping the scales at 226 lbs (101 kg) and I’m only 5′ 8″ (173cm). When it finally hit me, by way of the scale combined with a mandatory physical for a new job, that I wasn’t even overweight but obese, I had a moment of truth in which I knew I had to do something about my situation. Somehow I knew that running was the quickest way to get back in shape and lose weight but I couldn’t even run more than 10 minutes at a time. I joined a gym and put in 4-5 days a week of walking and jogging on a treadmill along with weights, elliptical trainer, and stationary bike. At the end of two years, the longest I run I did was a half marathon on a treadmill in about 2:20.

When I moved to a new location for work, I no longer had a gym membership but instead tried my hand at running outdoors. That was a huge change from only treadmill running. I quickly found out that I couldn’t run more that 2 consecutive days without bad pain in my knees. I also encountered the dreaded IT band syndrome from running on many hills. I had to stop running for 2-3 months and just cycled instead. I eventually started running about 3 days a week with about 3 days of cycling but another move for work along with a lack of focus meant the training dropped off, the weight started creeping back and I wasn’t generally happy about it.

Then a miracle of sorts happened in June of 2012 — I challenged myself to running every day of the month. However, I did some research prior to starting this goal. Thank goodness for Google! I found out that what I was previously doing was pushing too hard too fast–so common for runners. I learned that if I limited myself to a pace just above a fast walk and didn’t do it for anything more than 30 minutes, I could start to acclimate my entire body and not just my cardiovascular system. The bones, cartilage, ligaments, and connective tissue take quite a bit longer to adapt to a heavy workload like running demands. My method was to only do 30 minutes or 3 miles, whichever came first and to do it a super slow pace (think slower than 10 minute miles or 6 minute kilometers). The first two weeks were a bear but I am one stubborn person when I am challenged with something or someone tells me it can’t be done. After persevering through aches, pains, and niggles but nothing major, the problems subsided. By the time I hit week 4 I felt like a changed person. I accomplished my goal and ended up running for 6 weeks without a break.

Over the next several weeks I slowly increased my weekly distance with an occasional 8km run, then 10km run, and eventually by August I woke up one morning and ran a half marathon as a training run just for the fun of it. At the end of August I attempted my first marathon distance on my own and did it. Yet a funny thing happened when I finished the marathon distance, I felt like I could run farther. Again I went to the Google machine to search for “Longer than a marathon”. Lo and behold, the term I had never heard of before popped up: Ultra Marathon. Very interesting, I thought. The research continued.  I read about amazing distances and the prototypical ladder of ultra marathons (50km, 50mi, 100km, and 100mi).  I thought 50km is doable but the rest are ridiculous and probably not going to happen.  I went to work training for a 50km run.  I set my sights on January 2013 and trained throughout the fall.  I even ran another marathon distance in December 2012 just for mental preparation.  On MLK day in January I set out on the road and ran 50km in and around Luxembourg City in subfreezing temperatures with 3-5 inches of snow on the ground.  After 5 hours and 20 minutes, including time to eat and adjust equipment, I finished.  The last 45 minutes were a death march (I didn’t know that was the term at the time) but something inside of me said there’s no way I’m going to stop after completing more than a marathon.  If I stop now, I’ll have to run all those km/mi over again just to have a chance to finish 50km.  I pressed on and did it.  I reached my home and collapsed on the floor.

The running continued throughout 2013 and by May 2013 I completed my first full year as a real runner.  I had a light June and July with training and only averaged a few days a week of running.  By the end of the year I was running more but not with a real focus on any goal.  When Christmas hit and I was starting to see weight creep back on (I reached 182 lbs after getting down to 170lbs), I knew I needed to challenge myself again.  Let the research begin again, I thought.  Looking back on my training logs via Garmin’s website, I looked at my patterns and what made me successful in 2012.  I committed myself to a run streak of the month of January 2014, kept a strict food/calorie log, and plugged away.  In the meantime I figured out a new goal–I decided I was going to run across the country of Luxembourg.  For those that aren’t familiar with the country, don’t get too impressed.  My path I chose, from Belgium, across Luxembourg, crossing into France, returning to Luxembourg, and ending in Germany, was only 39 mi/63 km.  Yet it seemed like a good goal.  Run 39 miles prior to my 39th birthday.

Oh what a day!

Oh what a day!

Over the next few months I slowly upped my weekly distance and increased my long runs.  I did a recon mission by bicycle tracing the path I’d run on foot.  In May I embarked on my journey and successfully crossed the country running with no walking whatsoever.  My incredible wife even paced me the last 25 kilometers.  I crossed the German border after 6 hours and 22 minutes of running.

With that goal out of the way and knowing how I operate, I knew I needed a new goal.  What was next on the ultra ladder?  50 miles…um, okay but that’s 80.5 km I thought.  It’s only 20km from a 100km so I said what the heck I’m going to do 100km in the summer of 2014.

I plodded away at my training and was starting to run over 100km/60mi weekly prior to my 100km attempt.  At the time of my attempt, I had moved from Luxembourg and was visiting my family in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.  I plotted a course that would have me run from the very beginning of the Rock Creek Park to the Potomac River in D.C. and back.  The last portion of the run would even take me past homes where I used to live, schools I used to attend, neighborhoods where I used to play with my friends, and baseball fields I used where I used to play.  The theme was a literal trip down memory lane.

I felt good 3.5 hours in.

I felt good 3.5 hours in.

The 100 km endeavor was a reality check and a big piece of humble pie.  I’ll cut to the chase by saying I completed it but I was finally hit head on with a firm dose of reality in ultrarunning, you cannot run the whole thing.  By hour 6 of the run, my quads were starting to tighten up and as I approached hour 7 I could barely maintain any sort of pace.  I met my incredible wife at a predetermined location as a makeshift aid station and told her that she may need to start accompanying now because I’m not sure I am going to make it.  I had completed just shy of 70 km of the 100 but there was no more running left in my legs.  We were supposed to meet at km 80 to finish out the route.  After some good pep talk and me swallowing my pride, I decided that if I had to walk, I had to walk, but by golly I was going to finish this 100 km.  We walked for 45-50 minutes and I told her I’d try to run a little bit to see if my legs would respond.  Amazingly enough, they did!  From that point on I did intervals of about 20 min of slow running with 5 min of walking.  We did that until 12 km remained and I gutted out the remaining distance by running straight through.  I even got near 10 min miles during that stretch.  After just under 13 hours I had completed the 100 km.  Now there was only one thing left for me to be fully self validated (at least in my mind) as an ultrarunner–the incredible 100 miles.

100 km finished!

100 km finished!

In September of 2014 we arrived to our new home in Mérida, México.  I had always wanted to live in México because my wife is from the country.  However, I had no idea that Mérida was so different compared to Luxembourg in terms of outdoor sports.  It is 100% flat, there are barely any usable sidewalks, and ZERO trails.  It’s all street running.  I trained for about 2 months but hadn’t committed myself to a date for doing my 100 mile run.

For reasons unknown to me and probably because a friend signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon in November 2014, I reconsidered my longstanding view about never wanting to enter a race.  I had various negative reasons for not running in a race including, self-doubt, not feeling like I belong, and fear of failure.  Yet the overarching reason I ran is because I liked to run.  Running is my active form of meditation.  Running is what challenges me to push myself beyond where I may be today.  I have always had a strong competitive gene in my body since my first waking memory.  I think it’s why I did so well in baseball as a kid.  As an adult I found that running is my outlet to find out what I can truly accomplish.  I haven’t found my limit yet but I’ll keep trudging until I do.  Back to the signing up for a race idea…I decided I would find a 100 miler because I just couldn’t see asking my wife to follow me around the Mexican countryside by herself for 24 hours just so I could accomplish my self-imposed goal of 100 miles.  Logic told me that I should find a race that matches the terrain where I live and the weather.  That led me to the Keys 100 in May 2015.  It was further away on the calendar than I wanted because, being the impatient person I am, I preferred to do the attempt in late February/early March.  In the end, that was a blessing in disguise because it helped me iron out a few training issues as well as build my conditioning to a better level.

Race Report

I tried to remember to smile as much as possible.

I tried to remember to smile as much as possible.

When I arrived to Key Largo and attended the pre-race packet pickup/meeting, the butterflies started to hit.  I felt really out of place, knew nobody, and wondered if I belonged amongst all these fine athletes.  Race Director, Bob Becker, went through many details of the exchange points, route, aid stations, and rules but after about 10 minutes everything just started blurring and for those that are familiar with Charlie Brown, I just started hearing his teachers speak.

Following recommendations, I slept well Thursday night but Friday night I only slept until 2:45am.  I got everything ready in the hotel room and started packing everything in the minivan.  My wife, two daughters, and mother-in-law were accompanying me on this trip.  All would be in the vehicle for the first 10 miles of the race, then my wife would transport them to Key West, drive back to find me on the course and crew for me the rest of the race.  Did I mention she is 7 months pregnant?  While loading the minivan, I dropped one of the big suitcases on my left ankle.  OUCH and why wasn’t I more careful?  Was I self-sabotaging just hours before things were set to go?  We got the whole minivan loaded up and headed for the start area at around 5am.

We waited around at the start line, took pictures, saw all the pre-race rituals of the runners, and finally the opening ceremonies including the national anthem took place.  Now the goosebumps were arriving.  I was in the 4th heat of the individual runners which meant I got to watch the first three waves of runners who either said on their entry form they would finish under 21 hours or had run that fast in past events.  I had to fight more self doubt by entering in chatter with other participants to pass time.  Finally my wave was called and I entered the corral.

Mike Morton, the official timekeeper of the event said his little jokes to loosen the tension, counted down the time, and boom…away we went.

My method I used was heart rate based using data that I had captured over the past couple years of running.  I wouldn’t let my heart rate climb above 130 for the first couple hours then would use 140 as a limit as the temperatures rose.  Unfortunately due to my adrenaline, my heart rate was already elevated so I had to readjust to keep my heart rate in the low 130s to start.  It still frustrated me because even at around 135 I was only running at a 6:30-6:40/km pace (approximate 10:25-10:35/mi).  This was quite a bit slower than I normally run at that heart rate in equivalent temperatures and humidity in México.  Yet I resisted the urge to push myself yielding to the advice of so many other runners and books I had read.

Issie and me.

Issie and me.

The first 45 minutes flew by thanks to the fact there were so many runners around. I ended up meeting a very nice guy from Florida named Issie who had run this race before. He commented on my shirt that my wife had designed that said Te Amamos Papá (We Love You Papa). He was a Latin American immigrant and thought it was cool that I had that on my shirt. We exchanged quite a few stories and at the 45 minute mark he pulled up to start his intervals. I pressed on and met back up with another runner I met the day before in the pre-race meeting named Butch. He was a strong runner who had a running background from high school and was part of an ultrarunning team at Virginia Tech. He was also 20 years my junior!! We, too, talked quite a bit and exchanged our running strategies but at mile marker 91.5 (it counts down from 100), the parking area was on the other side of the road from us and my family was still in the car. I didn’t want them to get confused so I wished Butch well and went across to tell my family to go to the next exchange point.

At first mandatory check-in at mile marker 90.5, I met my family, got two full bottles of tailwind mixed in water, and said my goodbyes since my daughters at ages 4 and 3 would not last throughout the long day and night of running. My wife took them to Key West and I wouldn’t see my wife for another 5+ hours. I had no idea how much that would affect me.

I'm still having fun.

I’m still having fun.

At this point I was running by myself but with runners within view in front and behind. We were off the main Route 1 on a service road. It had high trees and was kind of picturesque in a non-Florida/ocean sort of way. I still felt very good but was not running as fast as I wanted. My first bathroom urges were hitting me but I was having a bear of a time figuring out where would be a good location. Luckily there was a construction site which meant port-o-potty to the rescue. I was in and out in under 60 seconds and I felt much better.

Over the next few miles there were various crew cars meeting runners which made me think what exactly I needed to do for my strategy. I had two 16 oz bottles. I held one in my hand and had a hip pack with a holster for the other. I also carried 4 packs of tailwind (1 per bottle) and one almond nut butter. By 8:30am it was pretty darn steamy. My experience from training in 103-108 degree F (39-42 C), made me drink lots of my tailwind concoction. I was finishing nearly 2 bottles an hour from hours 2-3.

At mile marker 85.1, I filled up my bottles with more ice and water as needed. I set my sights on the next full aid station 5 miles away. By the time I hit the full aid station, my heart rate was definitely way too high and I knew right away I was starting to overheat. I checked in, filled my bottles with water and tailwind and plodded away. I was getting more and more sluggish and knew something wasn’t right. My feet were sloshing like I was running in the rain. My left big toenail hurt a bit and I was reaching heart rates in the 150+ range. Just after hour 4, I already had to take a one minute walking break. This was not my plan coming into the race.

Based upon a 50 mile training run I did at the end of March, I wanted to run for 7-8 hours prior to walking. Also based on that run, which was done in harsher conditions than the Keys 100, I had set my goal of finishing the 100 miler in under 20 hours. I knew that was in definite jeopardy if things didn’t improve. Again drawing on the advice of other expert runners and my experience, I knew it was more important to slow down now and get my body in check, rather than running the risk of completely blowing up before the halfway mark. While I did slow down and start mixing in some walking, I had another huge problem. My stomach was feeling bloated and foamy. I did some analysis of what had transpired and I quickly realized that I had been drinking only my Tailwind mix without any pure water. Because of the heat and nerves of the race, I had overloaded my stomach with this solution and my stomach was revolting. To summarize, I had feet that were squishy and sliding forward in my shoes, I was overheating, behind the pace I wanted, and had stomach issues. EXACTLY what I wanted without even completing 25% of the race!!!

As I moved along slowly towards the 25 mile timing check-in, I saw how far behind my desired pace I wanted–at least 20 minutes. Not good at all. Like I said, my plan was for the 20 hour mark. My idea was to run the first 50 miles in around 9 hours to give me 11 for the second half. That was a two hour buffer that I had already eaten into during my first 25% of the race. Frustrating but I didn’t let it get me down. I knew there was a lot of distance to cover and I made the decision then and there, I would just give it my all, but stay conservative. I wouldn’t give up and just walk. I would moderate my pace so I could run the majority of the route.

After that check-in I was in interval mode doing 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking and sometimes I’d skip a walking interval depending on my heart rate and how I felt. Along the way I met a nice runner named Hernán who saw the four flags on my shirt–one being from Brazil. He asked me if I lived there, and I said to him (maybe in my broken Portuguese) that I lived there for a couple years. Then in English I explained to him the flags represented my family. A Brazilian and Luxembourgish for my two daughters, a Mexican for my wife, and an American for me. We chatted when our intervals matched up and he told me he had done the race before but today wasn’t going well for him. He said he wouldn’t finish. I tried to be encouraging but he seemed pretty resigned to his fate. On a side and at my great delight to see, he did finish the race. Good job man! He gave me some advice on not pushing too hard and being careful for the Hell’s Tunnel portion which was a long stretch through stagnant air and mangrove. It was known for just cooking the air. I bid him farewell as our intervals didn’t match up any longer.

Eventually I reached the 70 mile marker (30 miles into the race) and was running by myself again. I was still too hot and was really looking forward to finding the next water station so I could fill one bottle with water and one with Tailwind to help find a balance for my stomach. Finally in a little less than 2 miles I found the check-in and access to more water. At this point I had been redlining–and it really sucked. My modified approach from this moment was to try to balance the water and tailwind solution to make sure I kept the water and calorie intake without bloating my stomach. I ended up running for more than an hour with cramping, bloating, and burping foam. YUCK!

In the time after my family’s departure I figured out that I needed to focus on getting between the “Cooler” (water/ice) stations and the full aid stations. They were roughly 5 miles apart. However, I ran into a bit of a let down when I approached twhat was supposed to be Cooler before the Long Key. There was a sign but no cooler. UGH! Now I was running with low amounts of water and the remaining water was the temperature of the air, which was now in the upper 80s. While running on Long Key, I received a phone call that my wife saying she had returned and was near. She’d meet me on the other side of the bridge I was on. Relief was in sight…or was it? I got to the other side of Long Key bridge, saw a bunch of support vehicles but no wife. Now it was time to cue the pity party music. My phone, which was not a US phone and didn’t have much airtime to work in the US, received a call from my wife but in my sweaty fumbling I couldn’t get the call. I tried to text but it failed. Little did I know that I also sent one of those automatic texts on an iPhone that said, “Can I Call Later?” or something to that regard. With that, my wife didn’t call back. Luckily, which happened many times due to the huge generosity of the fellow runners and crews, another group saw my despair and filled up my bottles with what I needed. About 15-20 minutes later I found my wife at the mile marker 59 check in (40 miles into the race). From this point on, I would have my wonderwoman of a crew known as my wife helping me the rest of the way. I was definitely rescued in more ways than one.

We proceeded to meet each other at each of the designated runner/crew exchange points every 1-2 miles. After the first exchange I entered Hell’s Tunnel. That was not fun at all. It was everything Hernán described. Hot, dreary, non-moving air, and I tell you it felt slightly uphill the entire time. I think it lasted 20-30 minutes but felt like more.

Over the next 5 miles leading up to the halfway mark, it was pretty standard going. I’d run and mix in small one minute walk breaks here and there and meet my wife. I wasn’t in terrible shape anymore, nor overheating due to always having ice in my hat and ice in my bottles. However, at one of the stops before the halfway mark I decided I had to change my shoes because of the pain emanating from my big toes–especially the left one. When I took off my shoes and socks I saw disaster. Both of my big toenails were raised up and the one on the left was a good quarter of inch raised. Looking back on things I should have punctured the blisters right away, treated/tapped them and moved on but in my rush and inexperience, I just put on fresh socks, changed to my Hoka shoes with a bigger toe box and moved along. My feet were in a lot of pain but this race turned into me just blocking the pain out to deal with at another time after the race.

We reached the halfway mark at the 50 mile check-in in Marathon and my wife displayed another one of her many awesome posters, “Keep Calm, It’s Only Halfway!” When I checked my time I realized that I was 45 minutes behind the pace I wanted to keep. Reaching my sub 20 dream goal was just about lost but I refused to give up or just phone in the rest of my race. I told myself that I was going to do as well as I could no matter what and let the chips fall where they may.

From the 50 mile check in there were only two more exchange points with my superhero wife before the dreaded 7 mile bridge. I got fully stocked up before embarking on the stretch that meant I needed to cross the 7 miles with no more refills of ice/water/food. I decided now would be a very good time to start using my iPod. I embarked across the bridge and started what would become my revised method of run/walk intervals which I dubbed “target practice.”

The first target was the elevated portion of the 7 mile bridge.  I decided I needed to run to that point and then I’d walk the uphill portion.  While running on this bridge I was passed several times by Butch, another strong runner Michael, as well as this runner that ran the entire race in sandals.  Their running paces were far stronger than mine.  Yet when we reached the uphill portion of the bridge, my faster walking pace put me ahead of them again.  Near the top of the bridge I started running again and used an interval of 5-11 minutes of running to one minute of walking.  After about 80-90 minutes I reached the other side of the bridge and so happy to see my wife.  We were now 60 miles into the run and sometime during the next 5 miles I crossed into new territory for my running career: I surpassed 100km (roughly 62mi).

Around sometime between mile 60-70, it started to get near dusk and I switched from the desert gear of a long sleeved white Under Armour tech shirt and Ultimate Direction desert hat with the neck flaps to a tank top and regular hat.  I also donned my mandatory reflective vest with flashing LEDs.  Very quickly I realized that I needed to use my Petzl headlamp as the main road didn’t have many streetlights in certain sections.

As a side note, since I live outside of the States, I do all my calculations of pace, distance, etc. in kilometers. From the 100km mark I had about 61km to go. My thought process was to get through km 100 to 120 and then the rest should be downhill. My thought process, as weird as it may be, was that any of my training runs on a given week would be in the 10-40 km range. If I could get my distance down to that range, I could mentally process it as “just another training run” and not some giant distance.

During miles 70-80, there were several routine exchanges between my wife with the exception of one almost fatal mistake. At around the 78 mile mark there was a pedestrian bridge closed right after an exchange point. I had switched my Garmin watches because for some reason the one I had been using was near the end of its battery life even though it was supposed to have had 24 hours of life. (After the race I figured out that I left wifi running on the watch and how to turn on UltraTrac mode to give it near 40 hours of life–would have been nice to know beforehand!) While messing with the backup watch, I kept walking forward on the pedestrian path until coming head on with a fence and seeing it was closed. Now I could have gone back the 200 meters to where I met my wife and gone up to the road but I looked up a small embankment and though I’d just go up, hop the guardrail and be on my way. Unfortunately, when I swung my right knee over the guardrail, I smacked my kneecap dead against one of the wood and metal posts. For a moment I thought my day was over. I got over the guardrail, had blood dripping down my leg and could barely walk, let alone run.

To recap:  The sole of my left foot was badly blistered due to over lubricating it with aquafor–which I had never done before, both of my big toenails were lifted up due to huge blood blisters underneath because of my feet sliding forward due to the aquafor, my left ankle was bruised and unbeknownst to me at the time was swelling from the suitcase I dropped on it, and now my right knee hurt like it was broken in half.  This was the deciding moment for me.  Was I going to DNF my first 100 miler, my first race of my life or was I going to push through and do it??  I did some soul searching while hobbling forward and said to myself that I was going to get there some way or another.  I tried to start running again and it worked.  I was actually in less pain running than I was walking.  I believe it was at this point near the 80 mile mark that I started talking to myself outloud, signing songs or at least just singing the melody, and just plain yelling nonsense.  I also would take the occasional squirt of water directly to my face to get a jolt of energy–like a smack to the face. I must have looked like a madman!

A couple of interesting things occurred at night time, I had some mini hallucinations and I was also a bit worried at times about being hit by a car or falling off a bridge. Due to the dark and my headlamp being the only source of light in some places, I mistook some very large low-lying leaves on a plant as an alligator. It definitely put me on alert the rest of the race. Everytime I heard some rustling in the plants near the water I kept looking for one. I would even scan the bushes with my light trying to see if I saw reflections off of animal eyes like they do in documentaries on National Geographic. While trying to pick targets down the road, I once thought a street sign was a runner up in front of me. I changed my mind about 3 times before realizing it really was a post with a sign. As for the cars, due to the fact we had to run on the small shoulder of the road, there were several times where the oncoming traffic going 55mph+ got too close for comfort. I was worried that in my weakened state that I might take a misstep and go into traffic. Crossing some of the pedestrian bridges, I noticed that the barrier was barely hip height. Again, I thought that if I take a tumble or trip, I could easily flip over and into the water. YIKES!

From miles 80-90, I saw Butch and Michael a couple more times but I seemed to be getting out of the aid stations and exchange points a little faster. I think around the 85 mile mark was the last time I saw them. They were both in some pain and needed some stretching and regrouping. When I got in front of them from that point, I sort of used it as motivation to keep me going. My target practice method was in full effect as well. I would pick objects down the road like a building, a street sign, or a stoplight to run to (about 1 km away) and then I’d see if I needed a quick walk break of 150 meters. I also met an extremely inspirational runner along this stretch, Jason Romero. The first time he passed me, I noticed he was with another runner but what was different about this situation was that Jason had a sign that said blind runner.  He has severely reduced vision essentially giving him a small little tunnel of sight in front with zero peripheral vision.  He would follow the light of the guide runner.  Everytime he passed me over the miles remaining, he’d be very supportive and positive.  I was amazed and motivated by his positivity–especially this late in the race.  I came to find out that this man had run all over the world and even represented the United States in the Olympics in London.  AMAZING!

From miles 90-100 it was more of the same, I would meet my wife, get more water/food and I started using some caffeine sports gels every hour at this point, too.   If the next meeting point was a 1.5 miles or less, I’d run all the way until I saw her.  If it was further, I’d run about a 1.5 miles, walk for 150 meters, and then run until I would see her again.  I also started looking back quite a bit to see if any runners were closing in on me.  My competitive streak was starting to take effect.  Instead of having any runners to catch, I just wanted to make sure no one would catch me.

At the 95 mile mark, my wife left me to go wake my daughters and mother-in-law.  It really did my spirits well to know I was going to see my daughters soon.  My oldest daughter Fiona was so excited about this race and had even run with me some while I was training.  Keep in mind she is 4 years old so having that much enthusiasm touches my heart.  When they saw me for the first time around 2:00am in the morning, they were going crazy with excitement.  I gathered my new water and ice, gave them a kiss and started walking a little bit before my running commenced.  My younger daughter Gianna said, “Daddy you have to run not walk!”  I smiled and said okay here I go.  We met again with 2 miles remaining.  They again were cheering.  I left them and at the final exchange point I didn’t stop and told them just meet me at the end, Daddy is running all the way.

I didn’t stop running until I reached the finish line. There it was, the moment I had dreamt about for years. My family cheering me on, fellow runners cheering, and everything rushed through my head…with the final thought that I DID IT! All my hard work, dedication, desire, stick-to-it-ness, whatever you want to call it, paid off. 20 hours and 28 minutes from the time I started I was at the end. When I crossed the timing area and gave my chip to the time keeper, I immediately went back to my family grabbed them all and we crossed the finish line together hand-in-hand. Without my family, especially my wife, none of this would have ever even been a dream let alone possible.

We did it!

We did it!


Post Race
I felt pretty good considering the undertaking. I didn’t feel like collapsing. My feet were a wreck from blistering but my muscles and legs themselves felt pretty darn good. For my first race of my life, I was pleased but I know I can improve quite a bit with refined training and strengthening. The next day I also learned that I finished 8th overall.

After researching all the runners who finished ahead of me, I found out that all are very accomplished runners. They run all over the planet and in some of the most fabled Ultra Marathons such as Western States Endurance Run, Badwater 135, Marathon des Sables, and 4 Deserts. I received plenty of positive feedback from some of these runners who said I did great for my race of my life let alone my first 100 miler. I thought at the time it was casual chatter but came to realize after the race that maybe with a whole heaping ton of hard work, I might be able to have some success in Ultrarunning!

My valuable lessons learned:

  • I’ll make sure to follow what I normally do prior to my long run training and definitely not do anything different race day. The lubricating the bottom of feet was a terrible mistake.
  • I will give myself a little more leeway on my heart rate in the beginning to account for early race adrenaline.
  • I will make sure to have two water bottles: one with Tailwind and one with pure water.
  • When blisters arise, I will tend to them right away to avoid the pain factor I dealt with for 17 hours.
  • I will make sure to get the Garmin in the correct mode for a 100 miler prior to the race.
  • In hot races, I’m going to use ice much earlier rather than wait to nearly overheat.