Monday, September 15, 2014

UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mont-Blanc) 168K (104.3 miles) - 2014


Have to follow instructions on the signs

Maybe it is because I don’t have any videos or pictures that I myself took during the race.  Or maybe it’s because it was such a grueling physical and mental challenge of a race, but I have been having a hard time coming up with what to write to recap my experience running the Ultra Trail Du Mont-Blanc (UTMB).  I never had a true goal time for this race like I usually do with some others.  Obviously, finishing is a good goal as the race normally has a 65% finishing rate of those that start.  But it is helpful to have some idea of time so that you either don’t go too fast and burn out well before the finish or go too slow and wonder how much faster you could have gone if you put more effort into it.  It may help to give a short description of the race.

UTMB is a 168 Kilometer (104.4 mile) race that runs counterclockwise beginning in Chamonix, France and circles 168 kilometers around the tallest mountain in Europe – Mont-Blanc (15,781 feet) by going through the Alps in France, Italy, Switzerland, and then finishing back in Chamonix.  The race (according to the tracking) gains 32,000 feet and loses the same during the course of the run.  The altitude ranges from 2,700 feet above sea level to 8,300 feet.  The terrain ranges from asphalt in some parts going through small towns to ridiculous technical rocky alpine trails, but is mostly run on trails.  The climbs and descents are very steep and usually technical (rocky, rooty, etc).  The race begins at 5:30PM and runners get 46 hours to complete the course.  The winner will usually finish in around 20 hours and 20 minutes nowadays.  Obviously, with a 5:30PM start, anything over 27-28 hours will force you to put your headlamp on again and run during a second night.  For the vast majority of runners, this is the reality.  To give you an idea, I finished 309th overall out of 1,578 that ended up finishing.  It took me 35:23:48 to finish the race so I finished a little before 5AM on my second night of running.  In fact, only 57 runners finished before 8:30PM on Saturday!  An interesting breakdown of the finishers:  Nearly 35.7% of the finishers this year did so in the last 3 hours of the race.  Another 35.6% finished between 38 and 43 hours, averaging about 100 runners each hour.  So about 71% of all the runners that finished the race, did so in OVER 38 hours!  You are required to carry a certain amount of specific gear because we are running over mountain passes and if bad weather or an emergency situation occurred, it is easy to die if you don’t have the proper emergency equipment (warm waterproof clothing, emergency blanket, stock of food and water, etc.). You can see the mandatory gear list here. http://www.ultratrailmb.com/page/143/Equipment_advices.html

So because I had never done something this difficult, I wasn’t sure exactly how “fast” (or slow) I could be expected to finish the race.  My fun rule of thumb for races I do is to take what the winners finish in (if they are elite runners – not small town races that elites never race at) and multiply that by 1.5.  Then sometimes I’ll add extra time if I am out of my element, high altitude or a course I know is much harder for the everyday person.  I figure that out by looking up race reports people write or looking at some people’s times and comparing it to other races that I have done.  My research here led me to believe that I should be able to finish in under 36 hours.  For this race, that is averaging a 20:41 minute mile including any stops along the way.  Speaking of stops along the way, a strategy that it seems many Europeans took with this race was to sleep.  There are three aid stations on the course that have extra cots set up to allow runners to get some rest.  There are certain rules set up for that but I don’t know the specifics.  You could also rest at a medical aid stop as long as no one needed the cot for treatment.  Or, you could do what I saw others runners do which is to just sleep on the grass or on a large boulder on the side of the trail!  Basically, it’s a strategy because taking that 1, 2, 3 or more hour break may allow you to move better later in the race.  If you take a 3 hour nap at 2AM on Sunday morning, you may feel completely refreshed and be able to run fast during the day once the sun rises.  And you certainly can run faster when you have daylight, rather than just a headlamp lighting your way up and down very technical mountain terrain.  But my own strategy is always to keep moving forward.  I know that once the sun comes up I can usually run well.  So if I sleep, I’ll just be further back before I can run well again.  Or, maybe I’ll finish the race before the sun comes up and being done quicker without sleep is better than being done slower with sleep in my opinion. 

The race has been notorious lately for having bad weather.  In 2010, the race was stopped midway through then restarted the next morning because of dangerous conditions.  In 2011 the race was delayed by 5 hours because of very harsh rain, snow, and wind.  In 2012 the race was shortened to 100K because of extremely dangerous snow conditions on many of the mountains.  2013 had perfect weather.  I was looking at the weather forecast from multiple meteorological sources the week leading up to the race.  It started out saying rain Friday through Sunday.  Then on Tuesday, it rained heavily for about 12 hours or more but the forecast for the race turned to just rain Friday and no rain Saturday.  It basically stayed that way up until race day and the organizers were comfortable with those forecasts and planned to run the race with no changes. 

So now for the recap.  Evening race starts are still weird.  I tried to stay up a little later, closer to midnight or later so that hopefully I could get at least 9-10 hours of sleep and be less tired during the race.  I got about 9 hours of somewhat restful sleep.  After breakfast of scrambled eggs and a fresh baguette, I walked around here and there but not too much.  I looked over the weather forecast again and decided I didn’t need as much very cold weather gear for the first night but packed it in my half-way drop bag in case I thought I may want it for the second night.  I put all my gear into separate ziplock baggies and shoved them in my race pack.  I stayed in a house with Aleks and 6 other runners (3 ran a 119K version of the race a few days earlier and 4 of us were running UTMB).  We all were ready to head to the start at around 4:45PM.  However, I had a feeling I didn’t pack my thin running tights and when I was 50 feet outside the house, I checked my pack to make sure and they weren’t there (and they were required gear which means if they did a random check for it, I could be disqualified from the race for not having it).  Turns out I left them on a chair outside drying from being washed the day before.  Disaster #1 averted.  I catch up to the group and we walk to the bag drop-off for the halfway point in Courmayeur.  I take out my small video camera to get the first of many videos when I notice the battery about to die so I hand the camera off to Aleks because I don't have to carry around that dead weight.  Then we take a few still photos and head to the start.  Chamonix is a small little ski-town and it’s amazing how they can pack the 2,500 runners and spectators there.  When we see how far back the line of runners went, we’re shocked.  There is no way we can position ourselves correctly for this race.  It’s too packed.   Keila Merino, one of our housemates and an incredible runner (way, way faster and better runner than I am) sees a small street we can go down to cut into the line of runners instead of lining up in the back.  Unfortunately, when we get there, a metal fence about 4.5 feet high is set up.  However, we are able to successfully jump over it although Keila did fall.  Well it turns out we jumped the fence and were lined up right behind the pros!!!  While Keila can hang with them (or at least right behind them) Sky (another amazing runner) and I went back a little behind a tape barrier because we know we didn’t belong that close.  I think the other runners appreciated that.  With 15 minutes to go before the start, the rain begins.  At first, it’s a light drizzle but then it starts coming down hard.  Now everyone is getting out their rain jackets.  Perfect. . . Soon enough they start counting down each minute before they start playing the UTMB theme song, “Conquest of Paradise” by Vangelis.  Then they do the 10 second countdown (in French obviously) and we’re off. 
Sky and me walking towards the start

Eric (who finished the TDS) pointing at Keila and Juerg

Housemates running UTMB (Sky, Keila, Me, Juerg)

Aleks' video of the start

The first 5 miles of the race is essentially flat and on asphalt or very easy wide open trail with a couple small hills to run or walk up.  The rain keeps coming down and getting harder.  I’m running fast, between 7-8:30 minute miles.  In fact, even though we had a 3,000 foot climb and then equal descent on extremely muddy and slippery trail, I was averaging a 12:40 minute/mile pace through the first 13 miles.  Sure that doesn’t sound fast but that is a 22 hour finish for this race (good enough for top-10)!  The rain alternates from downpour, to light drizzle.  Somewhere along the way, I think around mile 7-8 I felt a very slight pain just below my knee.  It was more a dull pain than anything but just noticing anything bad, no matter how minimal it is at this early point in the race is never a good sign.  Sometimes they work themselves out soon enough and there’s nothing I can do about it now so I just continue on, hoping for the best.  I take my rain jacket on and off about 3 times as the rain alternatives from heavy shower to light drizzle.  When I get to the first aid station, I just go right through it since I have plenty of water in my pack.  Once we get to the first real climb, I take out my Trekking Poles.  I don’t put them away until after the race is over.  The first climb takes us up Le Delevret, around a 2,500 foot climb and a longer descent.  The trail was full of water, mud, and was so slippery that if I didn’t have my poles, I don’t know how I would have made it to the top.  Then on the way down, the poles saved me from completely wiping out multiple times because the slippery mud and grass trails were everywhere.  There was no avoiding it.  In fact, there were a few times where I went slightly off trail because the mud was so deep or slippery that it was safer to go in the taller grass on the side that wasn’t completely worn out by the runners in front of me.  I saw many runners fall on this section.  Eventually, we get down and it’s time to put the headlamp on. 
Up the first climb in the rain

Near the start of the second climb

The next section is a steady climb where it is possible to run but a fast hike is better for me since it’s still uphill so why waste unnecessary energy to gain not much speed.  Then we soon hit the real mountain trail that will take us up to the peak of Croix Bonhomme.  This section was when I realized just how hard this race would be.  It was still raining at the 31K mark but was starting to lessen.  I took off my rain jacket at the aid station, got some hot noodle soup and readied myself for a climb that was just insane.  In about 8 miles we climb 4,600 feet, with half of it coming in the last 3 miles.  The entire climb, I would keep looking up and see headlamps way up in the distance snaking back and forth the switchbacks up the mountain.  I always thought that the furthest I could see was the top.  But as I would climb, I would see headlamps further up and away.  I would also look behind me to see just how far up I was and the huge line of runners and their headlamps illuminating the way.  In my preparation for the race, I had planned for long climbs.  I basically told myself that each climb will take 2-3 hours and to just keep moving and don’t worry about it.  The climbs will eventually end.  This climb lasted 3 hours and we were climbing over some serious rocky territory.  In some ways, I’m glad I couldn’t see what it looked like around us in the dark.  I don't know if it was getting higher in elevation (above 8,000 feet) or the nearly three hours of climbing, but I was starting to get tired towards the end of the climb.  Thankfully, the end of the climb eventually came.  The downhill was tricky as well but I was feeling less tired and made it into the next aid station.  Right before we go into the aid station they had an inspection point where they checked every runner for their waterproof jacket with a hood and for a cell-phone.  That was the only inspection point I saw on the course.  Right after that, I passed a Petzl battery change station and figured I might as well get some new batteries into my headlamp as it will mean I will not have to worry about running low in an emergency of my own if it happened later on.  After that, I head into the tent, grabbed some food and more hot soup and then listened to some guy say that this course is harder than Hardrock 100.  To me, Hardrock 100, a race in Colorado that has a similar elevation profile of this race and a lot of technical running, but takes place at an average altitude of around 11,000 feet I think, sounds much more difficult. 

The next section was loooong.  It was 15K (9.3 miles) between aid stations that had food/water.  It started on a long uphill road section at first before we got into a steeper trail climb.  I didn’t recall from the elevation profile that it was supposed to be a long climb but it’s when I realized again that every climb here is long.  Even the short ones are as long as some of the longest climbs on other trail races I’ve done.  At the top of this climb, I see some sort of booth and realize that this is where we are scanned at Col de la Selgne and enter Italy.  The downhill was somewhat runnable but changing from rocky to not rocky and sometimes there were multiple tracks to run on but they would mysteriously end and you’d have to go to the other track next to it which was usually a little higher or lower than the track you're currently on.  Some parts were slippery and because it is during the night, it’s just hard to know what’s coming up.  Finally, I make it to the next aid station.   I grab some more soup and these cut up bars that remind me of Rice Kripsy Treats.  They seem to be some rice cereal held together by some type of sugary substance.  One bar has chocolate while the other has apricot.  They are delicious and I eat them at every aid station I see them.  They also had single serving apple sauce which was very refreshing.  I decide that this is a good spot to take my 5-hour energy drink.  I only use this during a race when I’m feeling tired during an overnight section.  It works for me probably because I only use it 2-3 times a year.

This next section had a short gravel section to run before it starts a climb and while running ahead, I catch up to Sky.  We chat and she tells me Keila decided to drop out at that aid station we just left.  Her knee was hurting her before the race from doing 3 hard 100-mile races in about 6 weeks, with the last one that she did hurting the knee badly only two weeks earlier.  And she had one more 100-miler to do the week after UTMB.  It’s called the Grand Slam of Ultra Running by doing those four events and she puts UTMB in it as well.  Her main focus was finishing the Slam so if she felt trying to finish UTMB would prevent that, she would drop out.  I’m amazed that not only did she start, but that she made it to 64K (nearly 40 miles).  She’s one tough runner.  She would have continued but she would not have been able to drop out until she reached the 77K mark because there is no transportation out from the other aid stations in between, unless you want to pay for a helicopter rescue!  So Sky and I chat as we run and then hike uphill.  By the time we reach the next aid station, the sun is ever so slowly making its way up the horizon.  Sky has to use the restroom so I go on ahead to a 2.5 mile downhill section that loses something like 2,800 feet.  This part is so steep and is filled with switchback after switchback.  The course has some obvious cuts before some of the switchbacks turn and I decide to take a few of them.  I’m glad I took the downhills at “Running with the Devil” hard in preparation for this race because it paid off.  I never felt that my quads were hurting or soon to be hurting.  I wouldn’t say I took these downhills fast though, so that’s partly a reason my legs felt ok too.  Finally, at the bottom I reached Courmayeur where my drop-bag is.  I can finally change my muddy socks and see how bad my feet are.
Nearing the last of the downhill into Courmayeur

In the town of Courmayeur

The Courmayeur aid station is in a school.  When I arrive, it’s filled with runners and their crews and there are very few spots that I see where I can sit on a chair or bench and take care of changing clothes and getting prepared for the next half of the race.  I finally find a chair next to the wall at the far end.  I sit down and begin unpacking my bag and getting things out of the drop bag.  Then it’s time to take my shoes and socks off and see how bad things look.  My feet are completely waterlogged and trenchfootish.  I have a lot of dirt hard packed and stuck in between the creases that resulted from the waterlogging.  I have some wetnaps and begin to clean my feet off.  Then I spray on some anti-chafing new-skin before putting on new socks.  My feet do feel much better.  Then I change shirts, replace the batteries in my headlamp, put sunblock on my neck, face, and ears, then seemingly take forever figuring out what I want to take with me and what should go in my drop bag to be picked up after the race.  Then I wander around trying to figure out where to go when a security guard tells me in Italian (and points) to go upstairs because I have no idea what he is saying.  I enter through the doors to an enormous cafeteria.  I grab a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and sit at a table eating and looking at one of the course guide books left on the table and focus on the elevation profile of things to come.  I get myself a second helping of pasta after seeing the uphill stretch that is next!  Then I fill my pack with water, grab some Pepsi to put in my water bottle which I took from my drop bag and headed out walking on the streets of Courmayeur before shortly heading uphill on streets that lead us to the trail.   And up and up we go.  I saw a trail sign that said Grand Col Ferret 8 hours.  I knew this climb wasn’t to the Col Ferret and that this would be coming along later.  The Grand Col Ferret is the highest point on the course and from the aid station on the bottom to the top, climbs about 2,700 feet in 2.7 miles.  However, I’m far from that now.  So I look at my watch and it says I’ve been running for 14 hours so as long as I get there in 8 hours or 22 hours of running, I’ll be happy, even though the estimate for hiking based on signposts is much, much slower than racing.  But it was something for me to focus on to at least know I’m not going to be going even slower than hiking and who knows how long I would spend in aid stations up ahead.  Once at the top, the next 12K was basically run along the ridge line, a sort of balcony across the mountain before a short (but really long because everything in this course isn’t short) drop into the aid station before climbing up the Grand Col Ferret. 



Unfortunately, this relatively flat section was some of the most painful for me.  From the mud and dirt in my shoe, or maybe it was that and something wrong with the socks I put on at Courmayeur, I developed some bad chafing across the top inside part of both feet.  I also had some chafing and a blister on a couple toes of my left and right foot.  Climbing uphill didn’t seem to bother it much but going downhill or running on flats I felt the pain and it was difficult to ignore.  I decided I had to cave in at Arnuva, the aid station before going up to Grand Col Ferret.  I asked a volunteer where the medic tent was so I could get treatment for my feet.  She said first I must eat and drink and then I can go to the medic tent.  Once in the tent, there were many people in there getting various treatments.  Getting blisters pooped and feet taped up and physio done on cramped muscles or people just sleeping.  I told them my predicament and asked if they could put some bandages over the chafing.  They said they could not do that because they thought the bandage may crease while running and cause more blisters.  Instead, they rubbed some cream onto the area and I said I wasn’t sure what was causing the chafing; whether it was some dirt in the shoe, or in the sock, or something else.  So they put cream on the outside off the sock too.  When I put my shoes back on my feet felt better.  But I doubted that they would feel better for too long.


I stocked up on what I needed for the 14K section until the next refreshment stop and headed out for the climb up the Grand Col Ferret.  One thing is for certain, this climb had fantastic views.  I was climbing well and my feet weren’t bothering me.  The climb took a while though that was expected. Close to 90 minutes for just 4.4K in distance.  To put it in comparison, I can run a 5K in around 19 minutes.  When I got to the top, I couldn’t believe it.  I was expecting more to climb.  It was a bit windy up there and the views were awesome.  This is also the border crossing into Swiss territory from Italy.  Woohoo!  Entering another country!  Now came the 10K of running down to the next aid station.  This part should have been easy, as it wasn’t very technical and was in the daylight.  But my feet were starting to bother me again.  I stopped once to put some bandages on my toes.  I stopped again to spray some Newskin on my feet.  Then I just continued to slowly run down.  I don’t remember why but I didn’t stop for long at the next aid station La Fouley.  I was in, ate soup and more food, filled up my hydration systems and was out in about 8 minutes, making sure I had enough to get the 14K to the next aid station.  





On this 14K journey, the first half or more was downhill which was really a pain for my feet but then it went uphill which I liked.  However, I was feeling low on energy towards the end and was wondering where on Earth the aid station was.  A few non-runners going the other direction told me different things.  The first one told me that once I exit the woods and cross the road the aid station is right up ahead.  Another told me I had 1 kilometer to go.  After I pass the road, someone else says I have another 1K to go.  As I get more frustrated I just keep moving, albeit slowly.  Eventually I reach the aid station Lac Champex-Lac. 



I took my time at this aid station.  Even more than the official time of 30 minutes read.  First, my feet were hurting a lot. Second, I was feeling low on energy.  Third, I had to use the restroom.  So first things first, I get some soup and some pasta.  Then I eat some of those Rice Krispy like bars.  Then I make my way to the restrooms.  There’s one person on line for the three stalls.  A couple of minutes later, I can go in but they are out of toilet paper!  I have toilet paper in my pack, but my pack is back in the tent and the tent is somewhat chaotic.  I have to walk around all the spectators in that area of the tent first before getting to my pack where I have my own toilet paper in case I have to go on the trail.  I head back around the spectator area and now there are three people in line!  Arrgh!  I chat with the person in front of me and it is the announcer for this lively aid station who I spoke with as I entered.   He was telling me I was doing a great job and at the time, I was in 391st place and since it was the first time running that race, it was good.  So I tell him now that I see him in line for the restroom that I hope he has toilet paper because it was out of stock.  He then tells me they just refilled the bathroom.  Perfect!!! . . . So I waste 5-10 minutes waiting in line for a bathroom; although it was worth it because I did have to use it.  When I finish (they had a real sink in this portable restroom trailer), I head back to my bag and look once more at the food options.  I notice some type of dessert pastry.  It has tiny blueberries on top of a light pastry dough and some eclair cream.  I try one and it was like I just ate a piece of heaven.  So I eat three more.  I sure do love this Swiss aid station!  So after eating a lot, I walk out but really need all my chafing issues taken care of.  The medic area is about 200 feet away from the tent so I pop in there and thankfully, it was relatively empty.  It was a small room in a small building.  One participant was passed out on a cot.  Another was getting his feet looked at.  I needed some bandages on my neck and lower back because the bandaids I had on weren’t doing the trick any longer.  I also wanted them to put a bandage on the top of my left foot because the chafing was getting worse.  It took a while, but not that long before the wonderful medic did all of that. She even gave me some additional bandage to take with me in case I needed something else.   I also changed the sock on that left foot in case it was something related to that. 


So I head on out of the aid station on a fast walking pace to make sure my food is digesting and all the bandages are ok.  Lake Champex was beautiful and to my left.  I really would have enjoyed dropping out and joining the spectators that were hanging out here in beautiful weather and scenery but by this point, I would have wasted so much time racing that I might as well finish the race, right?!  I continue walking for about a mile while we enter the next trail and I notice my left pinky toe is really bothering me.  It feels like a blister.  So while I find room on a big rock on the side of the trail to take care of this, I decide it’s time to take care of everything I need from my pack right now.  I have a huge blister on that toe.  So I put a bandaid over it, hoping that takes care of it.  I also put a bandaid on the toe next to it just in case since it didn't look great either.  I take 3 electrolyte pills and one Tums.  I take 2 Tylenol.  I take out my iPod shuffle.  I drink some Pepsi from my bottle, get my pack back on and start walking for a minute.  I notice that the bandaid on my toe is working great, all the bandages from the aid station medic are working perfectly, and I am starting to get a boost from the food from the aid station.  So I start running.  The course turns to an uphill (which means probably 2 hours of climbing).   I start hiking fast.  The music is really giving me a mental and physical boost.  The rush I’m getting is incredible.  Nothing can stop me on this section.  I’m passing a lot of people with fervor.   The course gets more technical but that isn’t slowing me down.  I’m loving it!  We then head into this huge open farm on the side of the mountain with a ridiculous amount of cows.  Some cows are blocking our trail and we have to go around them.  Other cows are jumping on each other.  I don’t want to get in the way or on the bad side of these beasts.  I also look carefully where I’m running/hiking because where there are many cows, there are many cow pies!  We finally start heading downhill.  I’m wondering if I can get to the aid station before I will need my headlamp.  I pass people and in some parts under the trees, it is a little dark but I don’t want to stop.  There is a group of three people in front of me and they are moving at a decent pace.  I could pass them but I use this time to control my effort.  After maybe 10 minutes, they stop to all put their headlamps on but I keep going.  About 5 minutes later, I stop to put on my headlamp.  By the time I continue, they almost catch up to me.  We head down some really big steps on the trail; big enough that I have to carefully step down because they are pretty big drops between each step.  I have a few guys on my tail but when I ask, no one wants to pass.  We finally get close to the bottom and have to pass over a massive bridge.  It’s a little bouncy but pretty cool to go over.  Then we get into town and have roughly one half mile on asphalt to the aid station in the city of Trient. 

I tried not to stay too long at this aid station, but apparently I stayed 19 minutes.  I think I was just trying to make sure I was fueled and good to go onto this next section.  I just had two more climbs and descents to do and I would be done with the race.  Just 28K (17.3 miles to go) and 6,000 feet of climbing and even more in descending.  How long could that take?!  That’s a question I didn’t want an answer for at that time.  In fact, I was so tired of racing at this point.  It's a little after 9PM at this aid station, so I finally use my phone and I e-mail Aleks and tell her, “I am so sick of this race. 2 more mountains to climb. 18 miles.  Hopefully done before 6am“.  She responds with a quick word and good luck.  I ask where Sky is, hoping that she’s still on the course because it is possible I she passed me when I was in Courmayeur and I never caught up with her.  Or she was behind me.  Aleks said, “She left Champex-lac at 20:41. She stayed there for almost an hour. Did you nap? I saw that you were there for 30 mins “.  No, I didn’t nap.  That was me eating, waiting on bathroom lines, and getting my neck, back, and feet taped up in medical aid.  After leaving the aid station, it soon turns into the trail and the steep climbing.  I’m still doing well passing people on the climbs.  This trail is steep and has many quick switchbacks.  After a little over an hour, I get near the top and am feeling great about getting there in under two hours.  The trail begins to slowly descend at a gradual grade.  I turn my headlamp off a few times, stop and stare up at the amazing amount of stars in the clear sky.  It was awesome.  However, the downhill section then began a series of negative feedback which while not leading to me getting hurt, or DNFing the race, really slowed me down and was physically and mentally destabilizing.  I was not out in the open.  It was more in the woods but still downhill and then steep.  The downhill section coming up looked ridiculous at night.  At some point, we cross back into France, although I didn't think of that at all.  There were tons of switchbacks but it seemed like there were these big flat rocks placed vertically on the trails and it made navigating this section so difficult.  I also figured since it took me a little over an hour to get to the top, it should take me 40 minutes to get down or even less.  This downhill seemed never ending.  At some point I saw a trail sign that said, “Vallorcine – 2h00”, so 2 hours before reaching Vallorcine, the city with the next aid station.  Well a trail sign that said 2 hours for slow hikers means maybe an hour or less for me running.  But I was running downhill slow and I’d already be going downhill for at least 10 minutes so how could I still be so far away?  This was a big mental blow.  The course widened out at some points but only to show me wet, muddy, flooded areas.  Then it started going steeply downhill again.  Finally, I was able to see some city lights but they were way down below and far out.  I just thought it would take another hour to get there.  The process continued until we finally exit from the trail but I notice I’m still rather high up.  We go around some abandoned building although I notice a big bag of fertilizer up there.  Then there were some more switchbacks to get us down lower and I’m able to hear some cowbells being rung by hand (not from being on a cow) and some cheering.  Then I get to a path that I can see finally leads me down to the town and aid station.  They had some big fires going outside the aid station.  After about the same amount of time to go down as it took to go up, even though the downhill distance was shorter and DOWNHILL, I’m exhausted but I go into the aid station in Vallorcine. 

Knowing that I have just one more climb to do, I try to settle myself down, make sure I get enough food, water and have some energy for this last climb.  I thought I knew what the climb would be like because I hiked up to the final aid station with Aleks and Sky the Wednesday before the race.  Although the hike we did from Vallorcine to La Flegere turned out to be the OCC (51K race course), we knew that we would just have to hike up a little higher and come down into the aid station according to the elevation profile.  So in my head, it would be a similar hike, just a bit longer.  No big deal.  At the aid station, I take a 5-hour energy and try some coffee.  Although unlike coffee already brewed at other aid stations, here they used instant Nescafe and the volunteer put about a tablespoon in a small cup and filled it 2/3rds with hot water.  It was pretty disgusting but I still drank about half of it.  Now it’s midnight.  I think I have hopefully no more than 5 hours left of the race to do (~11 miles) but hopefully much less than 5.  I have two bowls of soup and have bread to dip in the soup.  I look around and everyone is exhausted.  Before I get more exhausted myself, I e-mail Aleks again letting her know I’m at Vallorcine and then quickly head out before she has a chance to respond.  I walk along the flat course which seemed familiar but not exactly the same as the hike Aleks, Sky, and I did on Wednesday.  After about 15 minutes, I decide to put some gloves on because my hands were getting cold and I change the batteries in my headlamp to make sure I have good light for the final climb.   As I’m doing it some random person comes walking up to me holding a scanner and scans my bib.  This has happened a few times during the race where some person scans our race bib that isn’t at an official checkpoint.  I don’t know why they do it.  Maybe to make sure people aren’t cutting the course, though I’m not sure how that is possible with checkpoints at the top and bottom of mountain passes.  So I continue on the gradual incline and then flat section near the main road.  I’m then scanned again before I cross the road.  As I’m crossing the road, I look up and see where the runners ahead of me are climbing.  At this point, I curse and am knocked down a few steps mentally.  The section they are having us climb was a section that Aleks and I hiked on Monday, but we came down this part.  I knew pretty much what to expect and I wasn’t happy.  It is a very steep section of switchbacks.  Then it turns into rocky tundra terrain.  No use complaining about it though so I just keep cursing and moving forward.  I knew where we eventually had to go.  At least I thought I did. Once we get to the top, which is the La Tete Aux Vents, the course profile shows us descending a little into the final aid station, La Flegere.  So once we finally reach the La Tete Aux Vents, I see lights down below us to the left which I assume is the La Flegere chair lift and the aid station.  What is that saying about “assuming” things?  For whatever reason, we never head down that way.  We keep continuing on forward.  Down, up, straight on ridiculously technical (rocky) terrain.  At night, and being up for 40 hours or so (racing for over 33 hours) it was incredibly difficult to navigate.  And I had absolutely no idea how much further we had to go before reaching the aid station.  I couldn’t see or hear anything that looked like it in the distance.  I just kept seeing headlamps way out ahead.   This was demoralizing.  But what am I going to do?  I’m on basically a balcony of a mountain.  I did think that maybe I could put my warm clothes on, get out my survival blanket and take a nap until daylight?  But I honestly just wanted to be done with this race and section.  So we keep going.  For about 2-3 miles of this section before the aid station, I was following a British person and I had no intentions of passing him.  I could have but I was moving slower and slower and getting in worse shape so I just stuck with him as the company was good and we enjoyed complaining to each about how miserable this section was.  Then we started heading down some difficult rocky terrain.  At some points, because the rocks were slippery, we went down some using our butts instead of stepping or jumping down.  A few people passed us the last mile here as we were being more cautious.  Finally, I think I see the aid station.  The problem is that I see it is a couple hundred feet higher than where we are!  How did that happen when the profile looks like we should be descending into this aid station?  Well, it is what it is.  We climb the last few switchbacks into the aid station and I take a much needed seat.  La Flegere.  The final aid station.  Only 8K (5 miles) more to go.  

They had soup at this aid station but I didn’t want any.  They did have hot tea.  I had two cups.  The food choices though were very poor here.  Thankfully, they had those Rice Krispy Treat like bars.  I ate three of them.  Then I sat down and e-mailed Aleks, “Going to leave La Flegere now. Not sure how fast I will be. That last section absolutely destroyed me. I can't believe it was part of the race. Packing my stuff and leaving. Hope the terrain is quick”.   So that’s what I did.  At about 3:35AM on the second night of running, I got my stuff ready and headed out for the final 5 miles.  I recall a runner asking a volunteer in the aid station how far to the finish and she points to the sign that says 8K to Chamonix and she says it should take under an hour.  I laugh to myself saying I highly doubt I can do it in under.  I’ll be happy in under two hours!  So down I go.  And just as expected, it’s incredibly easy and fast terrain.  Like running on clouds.  Well, maybe not.  More gnarly terrain and switchbacks to navigate.  I’m hurting in a lot of places now.  Not muscular soreness.  I think things are just being overused like my left shin bothering me, that spot under my right knee (patellar tendinitis) that I got at mile 7ish, my feet are hurting, the blisters and chafing are hurting.  I’m heading down and down but I feel like I am not actually moving lower.  The town seems so far away.  And that may not even be Chamonix but a different one (Argentier?).  The only way to get the pain to stop though is to keep pressing forward.  Each step forward is one step closer to the finish.  Soon I’m done with the switchbacks and seem to be running on a more wide open trail heading in one direction at a gradual decline.  But I still don’t know how much more to go.  My watch died not long ago and I had no more charge left in my charger.  So I couldn’t tell how much further I had to go although it wouldn’t matter.  I have to keep going forward.  People have been passing me here and there.  I don’t really care.  I know I’m getting closer.  Finally I see an underpass to go through.  I hope this is what takes me out of the trail and onto the city streets.  It does!!!  But how far do I have to run before I get to the center and the finish line?  It doesn’t matter.  Just keep moving.  There are very few spectators out but there are still some people.  Whenever I pass them, they applaud and say good job or “Bravo”.  I very slowly keep moving at a jog that is probably not much faster than a walk but it’s still faster so I’m not walking.  Then I see Aleks!  I have no idea what I said here.  Probably something like “I can’t wait for this race to be over.  How far away is the finish line?!”  It wasn’t that far away but they really make us take the indirect way to get there.  Aleks says the finish is near the “Super U” market that we have gone to so many times.  But I can’t picture it in relation to where I am.  So I just follow the course barriers and markings and she runs with me.  She asks if I want her to run with me to the finish or get pictures of me finishing.  I tell her to get some pictures.  So she breaks off and takes a shortcut to the finish line.  I remember being here at 5AM on Thursday awaiting one of our housemates, Harald Zundel to finish his race, the TDS (119K).  There aren’t many spectators out cheering for runners as they are heading to the finish.  There are still some though and even though they are probably there to cheer on their friends, it’s great to hear them cheer for me as I’m coming in to the finish.  I wish I could tell you what was going through my head running down that final stretch into the finish line.  I really have no idea.  It was a huge range of emotions.  Most of which was relief.  Happiness that I’m done and do not have to go any further (except to pick up my drop bag and walk back to the house!).   Joy that I finished a race that I really thought prior to running it, that I had as good a chance as anyone out there to DNF (Did Not Finish).  Thrilled to be done in under 36 hours, something I kept in my head all race.  Unhappy that I wasn’t able to run faster the last 8K.  Not necessarily speed, but just so many things hurting.  Annoyed that I had the chafing issues and wondered if I could have finished many hours faster.  Just stunned at how tough that last climb was in the dark.  Most of all, as mentioned earlier, so happy to be finished. 








So after a couple pictures at the finish line, I walk 10 feet to pick up my finishers prizes, a very nice Polartec vest, a UTMB pin and sticker.  Wooohoo?!  Then I go to the food table to get some post-race recovery food.  They basically had similar things to what was at the aid stations.  However, they had some recovery drink that I took and also cans of Heineken, which Aleks made me take for a picture (and studies show beer is a good recovery drink so long as you aren’t dehydrated).   Then we go walk to bag-drop pickup.  The town is spookily quiet.  It’s about 5AM.  I go in to get my bag and speak to the Frenchman inside about the race and where I’m from.  He was telling me I have to do UTMF (Ultra Trail Mt. Fuji) in Japan next.  I was telling him that at this moment, the only race I want to do is the one to my bed.  After that, it was about a half-mile walk to the house.  I took my shoes off outside and somehow made it up the stairs inside.  I went to the bathroom to shower and when I took off all of my bandages, I was laughing at how bad everything looked.  My feet were a mess.  My left pinky toe had an enormous blister.  The top of my feet were so scraped and chafed it hurt just looking at them.  My back and neck looked bad and to top it off, my arms were sunburned because I forgot to sunblock them.  But overall, after 35+ hours of running, I think I looked fine.  I was awake and alive, so that’s a win.  I was expecting the shower to be more painful than the race but after the initial sting, I was fine. It sure felt incredible to clean up.   Then I brushed my teeth.  OUCH!!!!  35 hours of eating gels, gummies, energy/snack bars, sweets, and 20 hours of Pepsi are probably not what many dentists would recommend before brushing.  Some of my teeth were extremely sensitive and painful.  I was pretty sure I had at least two cavities (fast forward a week and I went to the dentist and just had some enamel worn away a bit but no cavities, yet).  Then I got dressed into some warm pajama clothes.  Aleks brought me some baguette bread with Nutella and cheese (surprisingly good combination) and my icepack and I iced, ate.  Then I stretched, and rolled and then I went to bed.  It was probably around 6-6:30AM.  My sleep was not so restful.  Because my body was on fire from the race, most movements hurt and woke me up.  Also, since I was so depleted on calories over the course of the race and my body still burning energy as if I’m running, I was hungry after 3 hours.  So at about 9:30AM, I got out of bed.  I hobbled downstairs to the kitchen to see Juerg and pretty much sat down at the kitchen table in a complete daze.  I may have been in this state more or less for a week after the race.  Still in disbelief that I did it and I think not sure what to do next.  In some ways, I just need to fully soak in the accomplishment.  Or focus on something else.  Eric came up and Aleks came down and we were then tracking Sky, who was still on course.  After breakfast, we went out to watch other runners come in while we waited for Sky.  She probably still had another hour to make it so we split up.  Juerg and Eric went to a cafĂ© near the finish while Aleks stayed out cheering and I went inside the dining hall for the athletes to get my finishers banquet meal.  It was much needed and a fantastic meal.   I go back outside and relax on      a makeshift concrete bench next to Aleks and cheer for all the runners coming by.  After a while, Aleks sees Sky coming!  So I call Juerg and Eric and let them know.  Then I hobble / run along with Sky and Aleks and then split away to the finish and await her longer run around before she reaches the finish.  After she crosses, gets some pictures and receives her finisher awards, we take some nice finishing pictures together.  

American Rory Bosio finishing in 23:23 and 14th place overall
Sky finishing UTMB





Post-Post-Race:
I did not really catch up on sleep on the days following the race.  I slept a good 8 hours on Sunday night but had to get up for the shuttle to the airport early enough.  I didn't sleep on the plane because I was watching good movies.  I got about 8 hours sleep into Tuesday but actually woke up well before my alarm and walked to work.   That entire week though I felt pretty sluggish and a few people said I appeared “out of it”, in somewhat of a daze.  I’m sure some of it was the overall mental and physical tiredness from the race.  Some was probably attributable to finishing that race and just being in a state of strange happiness of accomplishment and disbelief.  And finally, some may be just what do I do next?  That Friday night following the race I went to bed at 9PM.  Saturday, 9:30PM.  I cheered on Keila Merino as she couldn’t sleep in like I was doing because she was tackling (and completed) the last leg of the Grand Slam up in the Wasatch Mountains.   As for all the race pains, the chafing, the tendinitis in my right patella, etc.  The blisters drained and the chafing went away quickly with the application of A&D ointment.  My knee though has persisted.  I ran Saturday in humid weather and I felt it a little during the run but more so after the run.  So I took another week off.  I tested running Friday, 2 weeks after the start of UTMB and it felt much better.  I ran again Sunday just 6 miles mostly on the gravel bridal path and it felt ok.  So now what?  Well, I’m still in a state of disbelief.  But I have some goals that I may want to give a go sooner rather than later.  There is a 100-miler in October (Tesla Hertz 100) local to me (Long Island) that I may go for a Personal Best in, maybe sub-19 hours, although it’s 104 miles because it is 10x 10.4 mile loops.  I also want to break 5 hours on the Knickerbocker 60K in Central Park.  For me to enter into either of those races, will be a game-time decision based on the weather forecast.  Looking into next year, I will enter the Western States and HardRock lotteries.  If I get denied from both, I may run Massanutten 100 since I have guaranteed entry from being at the top of this year’s wait list, and completion would give me an entry into the 2016 Western States lottery and 2017 Hardrock lottery. 

The UTMB trip was an unbelievable success.  In the two weeks since the race I wonder if I could have gone faster if I didn't have the chafing issues.  But the fact remains that when you sign up to run UTMB, the odds are the weather will be a major factor in your race. So yes, the 4.5 or so hours of rain to start the race impacted my performance.  The trip to Chamonix was one I will never forget and the experience running UTMB will give me more strength to pull from in future races and great memories of perseverance to accomplish some silly race goals.  But it certainly could have been worse.  However, regardless of how my race turned out, I met and got to know some incredible people during the trip and had fun sharing the adventure with them.   

Monday, July 7, 2014

TGNY100 - The Great New York Running Exposition 100-Miler - June 21-22nd


As always - raising money to kick cancer's a$$!!!!  http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyc14/mbielik

*Video of my adventure can be found at: http://youtu.be/YQmQJGrMcgI

Apparently whatever "training" I've been doing the last month off of the base I built on the treadmill in the harsh winter is still working.  After my extremely good finish at the Bear Mt. 50-miler in May (see previous blog post for that write-up), I don't recall doing any true speedwork, intervals or tempo runs.  Maybe I should write workouts down again?  What I was doing was running to work every morning and then running a couple extra miles on the treadmill before showering and going to work.  So I was getting up fairly early to do all that about 4-days a week.  I would also run home and sometimes extend the run a little longer.  Adding them up it would be about 10 miles or more 4 days a week.  I generally run these fast, but not timed.  So maybe these are shorter tempo runs?   I did some long runs too but nothing too long.  Aside from pacing for 14 hours at Massanutten for 40 miles, I think I did 26 miles most in one day between Bear Mt. and TGNY100.  Still, I felt like I should have a nice base and given my performance at Bear Mt. I was hopeful that I should be able to run this race well and at least break my 100-mile PR of 23:08 at Old Dominion in 2012.  My "A" goal going into this race was sub-21 which is a 12-minute mile average that includes all the stops along the way (let's say there were 20 aid stations along the course and I stop for 5 minutes at each one.  That would add 100 minutes to my time so if I ran an 11-minute mile every step of the way, I would finish the run averaging a 12-minute mile).

Pre-Race
The week before the race starting with the Saturday before it was not the best one I've had.  I had some weird stomach issue that caused me to feel a little nauseous although I didn't throw up or have it go the other way either.  Mostly just intestinal pains and if I ate certain foods (dairy, greasy) it would be worse.  So I didn't eat a lot and stuck with bananas, dried crystallized ginger, bread, and my miracle chicken rice soup.  By Thursday I was feeling better.  Also that day, a fixture in my running ultra life that you know from reading these blogs, David Snipes came up from Richmond, VA to visit and run the race as well.

Race plan and course- My plan was to run 25-30 miles with Snipes and then take off on my own.  At mile 62, I would pick up my pacers and have support the rest of the way.  I would not have had anywhere close to the finish time I had if not for the amazing support my pacers gave me.  My Team in Training friends and awesome runners Kelly Barbera, Sarah Evans, Joe Lyons would take turns running with me while the others would have a subway and bus adventure to get to the next aid station.  Then I had my amazing wife (technically not, but fundamentally true) as a bike pacer with me from mile 62 to the finish.  She created a basket for the bike to hold supplies and even manufactured a way to keep the video camera on it to take hands free movies.  She's a genius with crafting things.   I was estimating I would be at the 100K (62 mile) split at 5:45PM.  Since I paced the race from mile 62 last year, I had a good idea what the course from then on would be like.  The race is roughly 95% asphalt with the rest trails or boardwalk boards, although there are plenty of sections where you can move from asphalt onto grass or dirt surface on city greenways or sidewalks.  A lot of the race is completely exposed to the sun, and as the race is on the Summer Solstice, chances are we wouldn't have a "cool" day to run in.  Here is what some of the turnsheet looked like.  I printed out the turnsheet, then laminated it and cut it into smaller sections (1-2 aid stations).  I put those on little carabiners and gave them to my pacers for mile 62-finish while I had all 100.

Turnsheet for the start to mile 30.


Map of the course


Aleks' awesome contraption for the bike

Race Morning - I set my alarm for 3:45AM.  The start is a 10-minute cab ride from my apartment.  It's nice to be able to sleep at home and then easily get to the start of this race.  Everything I needed that morning I prepared the night before.  I did forget sunblock but a fellow runner, Doron Kenter, was able to give me some at the start.   We left the apartment at 4:15AM and got to the start at 4:30AM.  We check in and pick up our souvenir race shirts only to put them in Sniper's drop bag for the 100K mark (I messaged Aleks to take the shirts out of the bag when she got to the 100K aid station because Snipes was tossing the bag afterwards).  The only problem with this urban race was there were no bathrooms at the start except for the McDonald's but the line was long from all the runners wanting to go.  There may have been some other options but we knew there would be places on the course (public bathrooms).  We take a few pictures with friends that are running and chat.  Shortly before 5AM the race director Phil McCarthy (an amazing ultra runner and current U.S. record holder in the 48-hour race - 257 miles) gave us some last minute instructions as did his helper and another ultra legend, Trishul Cherns.  Finally, we get a huge group photo before we start.  We're running a little late and sometime after 5AM (I never looked at my watch for the time) we were off and running.

Pre Race strategy

Race morning with Michael Ryan, David Snipes, Me, Gray Weaver, and Shannon MacGregor

Group photo of runners and Race Director Phil McCarthy and ARD Trishul Cherns in the front.

Phil and Trishul giving instructions before the start
The race:

Mile 0-4.75 (48 minutes into the race) -  The race begins on 46th and Broadway in the heart of Times Square.  As is normal apparently for every ultra race, all the runners take off like it's a 5K!  The first three miles, the group I was with averaged a 9 minute mile.  I think we all know we are going to start slowing down and take walk breaks at some point and it's nice and cool in the morning so might as well take advantage of that.  So north we go up Broadway, into Central Park, up West drive. Funny enough, someone mentioned as a joke to watch out for raccoons in Central Park but since it was daylight, I said the raccoons would be asleep now.  We walk up the Great Hill, and I see a raccoon peaking out.  I try to get a video of it but it does the squirrel trick of climbing up the tree and circling around so I can't get a good video.  We run down Harlem Hill and exit the park and head to Morningside Drive.  We head North, making a left and then a right to go North again until we arrive at the first aid station - Grant's Tomb.  Here, Mary Harvey is running the aid station and provides us with homemade coffee cake and blueberry muffins. 

Mile 4.75-9.3 (1:35 into the race) - On familiar paths, we head north until we merge onto 12th Ave and pass by Fairway before heading under the Henry Hudson Parkway making our way into Riverbank Park along the Hudson River.  We pass the familiar ballfields by 145th St. and I know bathrooms are coming up but they may be closed at this hour.  Luckily, there were three port-o-pottys near them and they were somehow clean.  I take my bathroom break while the others continue on and I'll catch up.  Now I didn't think they were going that fast but I had to log some 7 minute mile pace to catch up to them after what seemed like 10 minutes right after the tennis courts before the George Washington bridge.  Before that, near the basketball courts, I hear some weird bird like sounds and look up and about 5 green birds were flying around the top of the tree.  They sounded and looked like parrots!  Very strange seeing tropical birds up there but most likely someone that couldn't care for them as a pet released them.  We head under the George Washington bridge and walk up the hills that follow that path.  Then we continue north to Dyckman St. to around mile 9.5 for the next aid station.  Here Mary Arnold greets us and promises us that as long as we don't quit, she'll be at the mile 95 aid station in Brooklyn with Whiskey and Rum if we want.  I fill up my hydration pack and we head on out.

Mile 5- 12th Ave under the Henry Hudson about to enter Riverbank park


Mile 9.3-15.75 (3:01 into the race ) - We cross over the Henry Hudson Bridge to make our way into the Bronx.  Riverdale is a hilly little section with many turns on the course.  The turn sheet for this section has 25 lines, compared with 5 each for the prior two sections.  After the last aid station, we were not able to keep up with the runners we were with (Michael Ryan and Shannon MacGregor) but were able to keep them in sight for a couple miles where most of the turns were.  But once we lost them, we were about halfway through the directions for this section and on a part that isn't too difficult to follow.  The course marking were extremely helpful as it prevented us from constantly checking the turn sheet and looking for street signs.  Eventually we enter Van Cortlandt Park and a group of runners behind us catch up with us.  One of them, Grant Mckeown I met on a training run of the course in April that took us from miles 35-57.  He's been running in NYC for 40 years and knows everything there is to know about a lot of the parks there and the history of them.  His group passes us before we head into the trails.  The trail section was marked with flour on the ground.  These trails are pretty cool and rugged in some parts.  However, we did miss one turn and ended up going a couple 100 yards out of the way before we saw another runner coming back to us saying she thinks we went the wrong way.  We never saw anything for a turn so we must think she is mistaken.  But as we continue, we get to a four way intersection of the trails and see no markings so we know she is probably correct.  We look at the directions and can't see where we went wrong so I run back to try to find the last marking.  At this point, I stop my watch because I didn't want to get my mileage messed up compared to the turn sheet.  This was quite stupid because it also stops the running time so I don't know what time the official clock is at.  Plus, my mileage was off anyway so what's the difference if I add another mile to my count compared to the turn sheet?  In total, my watch was probably stopped for only about a minute or so.  But I really didn't know how long it was stopped at the time.  It seemed like longer.  As I head back, another runner is coming at me and I tell her I think we missed a turn.  She doesn't believe me and continues up.  A minute later, I see two guys running towards me and tell them I'm pretty sure I missed a turn and as I look to my right, I could see two women running off to that side so they must have made a left turn.  Sure enough, there was some flour on the ground pointing to that direction.  So I try to call Snipes but my phone is doing stupid things.  Instead I run back and start yelling that we missed the turn.  We get back on track, finish running through Van Cortlandt Park and make a left on E233rd st. and follow that to Bronx Blvd where the next aid station is.  Along the way, Snipes was dying for some Coke or Mt. Dew.  They didn't have any soda at this aid station, but they did have a ton of Halloween candy like Gummy Bears, Sour Patch Kids, and Swedish Fish.  At this aid station, we wanted to see the list of runners to get an idea of how many people were behind us, because my plan was to take off running on my own at mile 25-30, but I wanted Snipes to have people to run with.  Somehow, we were 13th or 14th from the bottom.  So there were roughly 12 people behind us, if they were still running.

Mile 15.75-21.1 (4:16 into the race) - This was possibly the easiest section to follow.  "1 - Follow park pathway south until it meets Pelham Parkway Greenway and turn left.  2 - Follow pathway east to Stillwell Ave.   3-Cross Pelham Pkwy, continue east, follow pathway to entrance of Pelham Bay Park."  We start the section but Snipes is running low on energy.  About a half mile into it, we see a group of older women sitting on some benches with the small greenway/park to our right and the street on our left.  Snipes, who I should mention all day would say "good morning", "Hello", or just talk to every stranger we passed said hello to all of them and asked if they knew of a deli anywhere.  It just so happened that across the street and about 50 feet back was a deli.  So I go in there and grab him a can of Mountain Dew.   The temperature is starting to pick up a little but we generally have a decent breeze.  We're running and walking and the walk breaks are much more frequent and longer.  Finally, we arrive at the aid station.  The next section is an out and back loop around the Orchard Beach area coming right back to the aid station.  So if you are carrying anything that you don't need for this section, you could leave it at the aid station to pick up when you return.  As you can tell from the times listed for each section, our pace had dropped notably.  Roughly to 4mph (15 minute miles)

Mile 21.1-25.1 (5:12) - The good thing about this section here was because of the out and back format before the loop at the top, you get to see people ahead of you on their return.  We saw a number of people.  Gray Weaver, Michael Ryan, Grant to name a few.  We saw Michael Ryan shortly before the Turtle Cove mini golf and driving range and he said he would slow down to give Snipes a chance to catch up with him so they could run together when I take off on my own.  I also pointed out, since there was no soda again at the aid station, we could get some from the golf place on the way back.  We pass Margaret Harbaugh (who I am meeting for the first time) and I chat a little with her as Snipes goes on ahead.  We talk about the Bear Mt. 50-miler because she's wearing the shirt from that race.  I go on ahead and catch up to Snipes.  At the point where the loop begins following the "out" in the out and back, I see runners coming from the left but Snipes sees Grant and a couple runners coming from the right.  This thoroughly confused Snipes because the arrows we see for the course markings are all on the way to come and go from the left.  We pass the enormous parking lot on our left for Pelham Bay (Orchard Beach) and then head up some steps to a beautiful view of the beach and bay.  We then head right, and soon after, pass real bathrooms on our right and might as well take advantage of them.   We continue on this path but are supposed to continue on a dirt path.  We miss that turn but realize as the boardwalk path comes to a dead end.  So we backtrack and go slowly to figure out what we missed and realize we were supposed to turn shortly after the bathrooms.  It was maybe a total of a quarter mile or so extra we did.  Nothing bad.  We follow this section before heading into the trails here for a short time and then come out close to where we saw the two groups coming from different directions.  This gets Snipes talking about it again and trying to understand what Grant must have done to come from the other direction (he found out the reason later on but I forgot what it was).  As we get to the Golf area, I go in to get the soda (can of Pepsi was all they had) and come back out and catch up with Snipes.  We make it back to the aid station where other runners are taking pictures and I do some photobombs jumping up behind them.  They leave before we do.  They had PB&J sandwiches on white bread cut in small pieces and I grab three and eat them. Aside from those and the gummies at the other aid station and Mary Harvey's blueberry cake thing, I've been taking gels for nutrition.  We then head out for the final section I will run with Snipes.  It's also the longest section between aid and it took us a while for a variety of reasons.

Mile 25.1-32 (6:55 into the race) - This section goes from close to Orchard beach all the way to Soundview park (near Hunt's point I think).  There are many turns in this section and unlike the other multi-turn section, there was no one around for us to follow.  After a couple of miles Snipes sees a runner (Elik Hirsch) near the Cross Bronx Expressway.  We are able to catch up to him because he was stuck at a long light.  Also, he had gone to a bathroom and was trying to catch up with a couple people he was with.  We run with him for a short while and he seems to be aggravated at the course at this point because he thinks he is going to make a wrong turn and there weren't as many arrows on the ground as he would like (or they were inconsistently placed in his opinion).  We were running on Zeraga Ave and were supposed to then continue on Lacombe.  Soon, we catch up with another runner (Erin Petrella) and Elik told us that she was not doing very well.  She seemed lost when we got to her.  We discussed for a short time that we should continue and I got out my phone and brought up Google Maps and pointed out that Lacombe is still a few blocks ahead.  So Snipes and I run ahead while Elik and Erin go slower behind us.  We see Lacombe and are going to bear right on it when Snipes goes up to a Fireman spraying down the sidewalk and goes up and makes a deal with him.  They trade one handshake for a spray down with the hose.  (I forgot to mention earlier at Orchard Beach, Snipes cooled off with one of the beach showers to wash sand off).   The temperature was rising but it was nowhere like it was last year, when it was over 90 degrees and humid day and night.  So now we continue through the Soundview neighborhood in the Bronx.  Snipes gets some mean looks when he says hi to random people.  I tell him that maybe he shouldn't be doing that in this area.  But the next person he says it to is an older man with a cane sitting in a chair outside a laundromat.  The guy replies, "You guys are WAYYYY behind the other runners."  That gave us a laugh and we thanked him for that information.  We go through some more residential area now and a lot of the gates on the sidewalk for the homes are silver or chrome.  Looks fancy.  Elik catches up to us and we continue to trod along slowly, making sure Erin is able to see where to go.  We pass a house and a strong smell of marijuana emanates from the front yard.  One of the people there leaves and in a thick Island accent says "It smells like Jamaica here!".  We enter Soundview park from the Southeast and cross a basketball court that had two teenagers playing on it.  Snipes asks us to hold up and shouts to the kids, "Hey, let me have the rock!".  They give it to him and he takes a 3-pointer and. . . . .airballs it!  Then he tries to get it again, fumbles with it a bit, misses a short layup but gets it on the next attempt.  The kids were just baffled by what happened.  We run the long way around Soundview Park and it feels like it will never end.  It seems like we should have hit the aid station a mile ago.   I slow up to walk with Elik while Snipes goes on ahead.  We stay at the walk pace to make sure Erin can catch us.  Finally, Snipes yells out that he sees the aid station.  They have ice so I fill my pack with ice and water.  I grab some gels from them.  Then I say goodbye to snipes and everyone and head off on my own.  Left on Story, Right on Bronx River Ave, Left on Bruckner Blvd was what I had to remember. 
I believe this is the greenway path leading into the mile 32 aid station

Mile 32 aid station
Mile 32-37.5 (7:46 into the race) - Yeah, I picked up the paced a bit.  50 minutes to go 5.5 miles including walking up two long bridges - Triborough from the Bronx into Randall's/Ward's Island for a mile and from the Island, a different part of the Triborough takes you from there into Queens (or RFK bridge for the newbies to NYC or out of towners).  This was the first section I ran by myself.  It was also the most interesting.  I'm running down Garrison Avenue in the Bronx and there are cars parked on the side of the road with the doors open and music blasting and people just standing around talking/relaxing.  I then see a van drive off on the other side of the road and some guys were yelling at it trying to get the drivers attention like they wanted the guy to come back.  They didn't seem happy and looked like they were going to get into their cars to catch up to them.  But I keep running.  Soon after, a few blocks before I turn onto Leggett ave., I see one guy get out of his car and start yelling at another car that parked just around the corner.  The guy yelling was then getting into a boxing stance and the guy in the other car around the corner opens his car door and gets out with a pipe.  He starts walking towards the other guy who was cursing at him and telling him to put the pipe down and fight like a man.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see a police cruiser coming down the road so I know this will be short lived.  The guy with the pipe keeps walking towards the other man and points out that the cops are right there but the boxing guy doesn't care.  I run by this scene, thought about filming it but then thought it's better to just ignore it and keep moving (I'm making great time now so why mess that up?).  A moment later I hear the siren from the police car go on.  Ahhhhh. . . Something that you may hear stories of happening in the Bronx but you rarely do witness it first hand.  So I continue on until I'm about to come up to the Triborough bridge heading into Randall's Island.  I see a couple runners up ahead of me.  I recognize one as the guy that Elik was running with (they were both wearing yellow shirts).  I let him know where his friend is and pass them.  Then I come up on a group of other runners, chat a little and fly by them.  On the way down the bridge into Randall's Island, I was a little confused because there were many arrows on the ground that seemed to say I should be going back up the bridge I came.  I stood around for about 30 seconds looking around and trying to make sense of it.  Then I said to hell with it!  I ran the training run which started at this point and I KNOW the way to go.  So I ran in the direction I wanted to go in and soon enough, I see a familiar arrow pointing in the correct direction.  I always like running around this island and the "Hell-Gate" area is quite neat.  I head south on the path and head to the road until I get to the entrance to Queens path on the Triborough bridge.  This is a much longer bridge than the earlier one and it was a good walk break.  I pass a few more people on this bridge before arriving in Queens.  A few blocks later, I reach the aid station.

Mile 37.5-41.7 - (8:44 into the race) - I arrive at the aid station and there a a lot of people there. Volunteers and runners alike.  I see Michael Ryan there and tell him about Snipes since I left him.  I refill my pack with ice and water.  They ask if I want any food but since I took 1-2 gels not that long ago on the bridge and was starting to heat up with the temperature and my faster running, I wasn't feeling hungry for any of the food and I still had gels and gummies on me.  But then I spotted Girl Scout Cookies - Samoas!!!   I shouted out "oooooohhh Samoas!"  I grabbed two and shoved them in my mouth.  While I should have told Michael Ryan that I was going to run faster than he wanted to go and Snipes really wanted to run with him, Mike was ready to head out after spending a lot of time at the aid station and I wanted some company and to chat with him so we head out together for the next section.  We are running well and about every mile we take a short walk break.  We are running past LaGuardia airport and then get closer to the Marina by the water.  All of a sudden this disgusting smell of gas and/or raw sewage from a low water there hits us.  It was terrible.  I almost threw up from it a couple times.  Finally we got away from that stench and were approaching the aid station.  One of the volunteers was holding a sign before we reach the aid station that said "Free Drinks Here!"

Mile 41.7-46.5 (9:50 into the race) - We get to the aid station and Shannon MacGreggor was there.  He was having some stomach issues.  My stomach was feeling like it wouldn't handle most foods and I was feeling like I couldn't handle gels either.  The aid station though had seedless watermelon which I knew I could handle because I was craving it as soon as I saw it.  The people at this aid station also made Sushi rice with honey and it was cold.  It was fantastic!  After refilling my pack again with some ice and water. I asked Mike Ryan if he was going to hang out a little longer at the aid station and he was.  So I was going to leave when Shannon said he would come with me and since I was going to walk a few minutes to digest the food before running.  So we start out walking and I'm asking him about the run and for some reason, his food isn't digesting.  It's basically just staying in his stomach or intestine and he's feeling bloated.  He tells me that he will most likely throw up soon.  Shannon is an incredibly strong runner and even more strong willed and in touch with his body.  In mid-May, he was supposed to run a really hard 100-mile race in Virginia (The one I paced a random person on as Snipes had a gallstone).  Shannon came down with Spinal Meningitis and was hospitalized (and pretty much quarantined) for about a month before the race.  He was released a few days before the race and still went down to run it.  While he didn't finish the race, he made it to around mile 70 before being cut off by the clock.  That is one tough runner.  He was saying how we will just visualize and focus on throwing up and when the time is right, he'll vomit.  A few minutes later, he says it is time.  He proceeds to throw up some black liquid like out of a horror movie.  The crazy thing is, he said he didn't have anything that color.  No Coke, no chocolate, nothing we can think of that is that color.  So that pretty much proved to me that something bad was going on in his stomach.  He was able to point out undigested S-Caps (electrolyte pills) that he took an hour or more before.  So things really were just not processing in his digestive system.  After a couple minutes of vomiting, we start walking again.  Then he mentions that his toes are feet are hurting from the shoes.  He needs some gauze to put under his toes to relieve some pressure.  But we are not close to any drug stores.  Out of nowhere, he see something on the grass and is psyched.  It's a square piece of foam packing material.  He picks it up, finds a bench, takes out a small tool kit from his running pack with tape and scissors and proceeds to make some padding to put under his toes.  While he's doing this, Mike Ryan is walking and catches up to us.  So does another runner Paul Arroyo.  Finally, Shannon is all set and ready to head out.  We keep walking.  I know I'm losing a lot of time but I know I was moving quickly when I was on my own and maybe this extended walk break will help in the long-run.  However, I do know that I should soon start to go a little faster.  We cross a small bridge to get to Prince Street in Queens.  We start running on the downhill section.  Paul needs another walk break but Shannon, Mike and I keep running.  Next, Shannon says he needs a grocery store to buy lettuce or spinach because that should help soak up and calm whatever evil is in his stomach.  Next thing you know, he's gone so he must have found that store.  About a quarter mile later, we pass Leavitts park and Mike needs to use the bathroom.  I tell him I'm going to continue on ahead.  So I take off running a good pace again.  I remember from the training run that this section has a lot of turns and runs through some residential type areas.  So I was paying more attention to the directions and looking closely at the street for arrows.  Eventually, we hit Willets Point Blvd and it's more of a straight shot hear until Utopia Pkwy and then we enter Little Bay Park. I catch up to a group of three runners before passing them into Little Bay Park. The Aid station is right underneath the Throg's Neck Bridge.

 Mile 46.5-51.4 (10:51 into the race) - I don't remember anything from this aid station.  They were helpful in giving me ice and water.  But I didn't need much else here. In fact, I was not at this aid station very long.  I maybe ate a banana at the aid station.  I take off walking, then transition to running.  I exit the park and then head onto a Greenway parallel to the Cross Island Parkway called the Joe Michael Health Walk (which is a 2.4 mile paved walkway but is very wide.  The Cross Bronx Pkwy is to our right and the Little Neck Bay is to our left.  There is some softer grass and dirt to the left of the paved greenway.  I run on the softer surface for most of the stretch.  This section is completely exposed to the sun and it feels hotter from the cars travelling fast right by us.  Still, I run this entire 2.4 mile section until I'm forced to stop at a traffic light to cross Northern Blvd.  I pretty much averaged 9 minute miles up until here.  Then there are a number of uphills that eventually take us into Alley Pond Park.  At Alley Pond Park, there is a nice shaded trail section that is run on extremely soft and bouncy wood chips.  I also take a short restroom break in the woods.  I exit the trail and run on paved walking paths in the park.  Soon I spot a rabbit.  I find this very amusing as I wonder if I'm being a "rabbit" and going too fast and will burn out later on.  I take a video of the rabbit.  I continue on and then pass a set of real bathrooms and decide to take advantage of that because you never know when the next set will be that are at least unoccupied if open.  When I exit, I see some runners (it's Margaret from earlier with her pacers) walking on uphill ahead and wonder how they got there because I was running well so I know they couldn't have been catching up to me from behind.  It turns out, she was ahead of me and they stopped in the bathrooms as well.  Soon we get to the aid station.

Alley Pond Park - shortly before spotting a rabbit
Mile 51.4-56.4 (11:55 into the race) - I text my pacers that I'm at mile 51.4 and that last section felt tough and the heat is making me not hungry.  I didn't eat much here.  In fact, I took a banana for the road hoping I would feel like eating and within 10 minutes, I ate it. Nothing else was appetizing.  The next section runs on the Vanderbilt Motorway for about 1.5 miles and then continuing on the Greeenway path for another 1.5 miles or so.  The Vanderbilt Motorway was the first roadway built specifically for automobile use only.  Much of the roadway was eventually replaced by homes and structures.  This Greenway path gives some idea of what it was like.  Prior roads were dirt roads that were shared with other transportation (Horse and Carriage) methods.  After following more Greenway we run on sidewalks and through small parks. I feel like I was running well here but I was really looking forward to picking up my pacers at mile 62.  My legs started to feel a little tired but remembering to stay on top of the electrolyte pills and Tums intake would soon fix any type of tired and cramping legs. Eventually I arrive at Kissena Corridor Park.

Mike 56.4-62.2 (12:57:20 officially into the race) - This aid station was the healthy aid station.  They had a ton of fresh fruit options.  I thought I spotted watermelon and was going to take some when I realized it was Papaya!  So I ate a bunch of that and grabbed a cup to take more in with me once I left.  It was still feeling a little hot and I hadn't eaten that much and I knew I would need more calories in me to keep running the way I have been running.  I was hoping my stomach would feel better soon since it was 6PM and the temperature should start cooling down.  This section took me into Flushing Meadows Park.  As soon as I get to the entrance I see a lady selling Italian Ices.  I was so thrilled to see that.  I asked for one.  Originally I asked for Cherry.  Then she opens the cart and there was Cookies and Cream.  But that looked more like ice cream and she said it was so I got a Rainbow Ice instead.  It was incredible!  She put about 4 scoops or more in a cup and I just ran with it while eating it.  It was heaven!  I'm running through Flushing Meadows Park.  People are BBQing, playing football, and futball, and with remote control cars, and skateboarding, and everything that is great to do on a Saturday early evening.  I get to the Unisphere and head left (south).  There's a concert going on towards the end of this part of the park.  We head past Meadow Lake and Willow Lake and then cross over the Grand Central Parkway making my way to Forest Park.  I get onto 80th Rd. and halfway up this part I see a runner who thinks she is lost.  She did the 100-miler two years ago and was doing the 100K this year.  For some reason, she didn't trust that she should keep following the road into Forest Park.  So I convinced her to follow me and in a matter of seconds, I spot one of the course arrows.  We run through Forest Park and I'm getting excited that I'm about to pick up my pacers and only have 38 miles left to go.  I see through some trees on the winding downhill we have to the exit of the Park that the aid station is there.  We cross the street and I'm ready to see my friends and have them run and bike it and experience it all with me.
Exiting Flushing Meadows Park with the Unisphere sticking out of the trees behind me




Mile 62.2-66.6 (13:48 into the race) - Wow.  My spirits sure shot up after getting to this aid station to see three of my four pacers (Aleks, Kelly, and Joe).  I checked in with the aid station captain and assistant race director Trishul Cherns and also saw Paul Kentor volunteering here.  He helped fill my pack with ice and water.  As for food, this was the 100K finish and they had pizza and eggplant parm here.  I did NOT have any of that, no matter how tempting it was.  There was a giant uncut seedless watermelon though.  Aleks was awesome enough to take the duty of cutting it into slices.  It was delicious.  I had a few slices of that and once I was sure I was all sorted out, we left the aid station.  This was the point in the race last year that I began my pacing duties for Mark Leuner, so I had a good idea of what was to come.  One of those things that I was really looking forward too, was an Italian Ice stand.  Before I reach it, we are waiting to cross a street along with Cherie Yanek and her pacers.  I tell her I'm heading to the Italian Ice store across the street and it didn't take a lot of convincing to have her get some as well.  I get there first and they have about 40 choices of flavors.  The one that piques my interest was cotton candy!  I get a large or extra large (can't remember now).  I carried and ate it just until a little before the next aid station.  On the way we pass a casino (Aquaduct Casino) and it is a huge place.  Who knew this was out here?  We cross the Belt Parkway to Cross Bay Blvd and head south to the Joseph Addabbo bridge.  Right before the bridge is the next aid station.  Given the stop to get the Italian ice, we made good time in this section.  It's not surprising given the pickup I got with my pacers.  When we get to the aid station, I chat a little with the aid station captain Yuri Esperson and say goodbye to Kelly, who we will meet up again with at mile 90.  She was going to take the subway and then a bus to the next aid station.  It would take her about two hours.  Sometimes, it is just as fast to run than to take public transportation!
Aleks and Joe waiting for my arrival at the 100K (mile 62) aid station in Forest Park

At the Forest Park Aid atation

Getting my Cotton Candy Italian Ice!
Mile 66.6-71.5 (14:48 into the race) - So Aleks, Joe, and myself continue on.  We cross the long bridge and then stay on the greenway path of the Cross Bay Blvd. We pass the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and the Broad Channel Wetlands.   We also saw a nest that had a hawk or some bird of prey. I believe the next section we go through is called Broad Channel.  Then we have to take a slight detour to get onto the Cross Bay Bridge into the Rockaways.  For most of this section, I would try to run for a mile or close to one, then walk for about 1-2 minutes.  Crossing the bridges, I would walk the uphills and then run the flat and downhills.  When we finally get to the bottom of the Cross Bay Bridge and into the Rockaways, I just blank on where to go next.  I don't see any arrows.  The turn sheet says cross Beach Channel Drive and bear right onto B94.  I just couldn't see any signs for B94 or arrows.  Aleks made it down and had a map printout of some sections and confirmed the way to go.  So we go that way and I see an arrow soon after.  We follow B94 to Shore Front Parkway which is the road right before the (closed and still under construction from what hurricane Sandy destroyed) boardwalk.  The aid station was at the end of the block.  An hour to go 5 miles.  I'll blame the bridges for the extended walking breaks and then stopping to make sure I was going the correct way for the slower pace this section.
The Joseph Addabbo Bridge





                                        



Exiting the bridge and entering the Rockaways

A bird's nest - maybe a hawk?



Mile 71.5 aid station - Rockaway Beach

Mile 71.5-75.2 (15:22 into the race) - At the aid station here they had seedless watermelon and also a special salt/spice flavoring for watermelon.  I had been taking my enduralyte (Electrolyte pills) and Tums roughly every hour or two.  But it doesn't hurt to get more salt, especially when I had been sweating a lot all day.  They also had some interesting specialty cookies here.  I don't remember the brand or the flavor I took, but I ate at least half of it on the run but chucked the rest because it was a heavy snack.  Also at the aid station, I asked how many people had come through and they said that I was the 13th person!  So with 30 miles to go, and generally feeling good, I was hopeful that I could break the top-10 if I didn't fall apart in the next 30 miles (which is always a real possibility in a race this long).  Now while I say I was generally feeling good, I should mention that around this point I really just wanted to be done with the race. While crossing the bridge to get into the Rockaways I mentioned to Joe that I really wanted to get to mile 75 because there would be less than a marathon to go.  Then it is easier to break down from there.  Even so, I was really just wishing to be at mile 95 and only have 5 miles to go on extremely familiar territory (Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan).  After heading West on Shore Front Parkway, I felt the need to use a restroom again.  Luckily, since this is a beach, there were public restroom right by us shortly and no need for panic or public defecation!  It's still light out being the first day of summer and roughly 8PM and Aleks tells me that there were two extremely drunk girls who basically wobbled and fell over each other as they were walking down to the street level from near the bathrooms.  The stretch continues and we run by streets lined with beach houses.  It feels like just about any beach town and very far removed from NYC.  I remember it was already dark when I was here last year and I had no idea we were running by with views of the ocean to the left of us.  I feel a little bit of chafing on my shoulder coming from the hydration pack so I decide that now is a good time to give it to Aleks and just use my hand bottle. No pun intended but that move really took a lot of weight off of my shoulders.  At the last aid station, Aleks took a banana and kept it in the bike rack to eat later.  Since I was eating too much and I didn't grab other food for her to hold at the aid stations she asked if I wanted it now but I said no, she could have it.  A very funny scene to me was when she quickly biked to the opposite side of the street and far down the road.  We lost sight of her until I look across and see her standing next to the bike eating the banana and just staring out us with some look like "This is my banana, everyone stay away", as she stared at us running by on the other side of the road.  It's just something you had to see or be there to laugh at.  We make it to Jacob Riis park and the next aid station.  They set it up this year a couple hundred yards closer than the year before because there were no available tables anywhere else. 
Running on Shore Drive with the Beach to our left





Mile 75 - Jacob Riis Park Aid Station



Mile 75.2-80.8 (16:42 into the race) - The weather seemed more humid once we got to this aid station.  I got some ice water and poured some over my neck and on the back of my legs to speed the cooling down process.  I grabbed more watermelon at this aid station as well as a to go cup.  There was a slight disagreement between myself and Aleks on where we go next but I ended up winning that one since I was extremely familiar with this part from last year because Mark had me going back and forth from this aid station a couple of times because he forgot two things separately from this aid station.  Otherwise I normally would have gone with what Aleks said for the directions.  It just turned out that the map she had looked like it curved around a different way.  No time lost though and no big deal.  We exit Jacob Riis Park and take the Marine Parkway Bridge into Brooklyn.  That was a long section in Queens even though I went over so many bridges.  I continue the walk the uphill, run the downhill strategy on the bridge.  It becomes dark as we get to the end of the bridge.  We cross Flatbush Ave. at the light and continue on a greenway path where we stop for a couple of minutes to get our headlamps on since these sections are not as well lit.  We continue until it's time to cross the street again to head on another path parallel to the Belt Parkway.  In this section there were two spots where there was probably 100 feet of sand to navigate through.  It made no sense to try and run through this so we walked through the sand.  Aleks had a more difficult time getting the bike through the sand.  Also, it was quite dangerous to have her riding in front and not seeing when the sand would start (no lights on this section and her bike headlight was not very good).  We make it through that sand section and enter Sheepshead Bay.  It's a lively section and people are going to restaurants, bars, and hanging out on the pier.  It was extremely crowded and navigating through the people was annoying but that's what happens with this race.  It adds to the fun/challenge.  It did make things more difficult once again for Aleks on her bike.  She had to go against traffic on the street, or just go very slowly and get off the bike a few times on the sidewalk when it was too crowded.  I recall this part from last year because it was at least 2-3 hours later in the night and the place was still packed.  There was also a part on the pier to walk out and sit with many benches.  That's where Mark took his first 5-minute nap.  I pointed it out to Joe and Aleks as we passed it.  I don't remember this section being as long before crossing a bridge to the aid station but it seemed to go on forever!  Joe received a text from Kelly and Sarah who were at the aid station that they wrote a message to me in chalk as we exit the bridge.  We finally get to the bridge and I turn on my headlamp in order to see the message on the ground.  I see it as we exit the footbridge to lots of cheers from the aid station and I'm excited for my new pacers who are itching to run. 
Sunset overlooking the Marine Parkway bridge into Brooklyn





Sarah and Kelly waiting for us across from Sheepshead Bay

I had my headlamp on to make sure I could see the message in chalk
Leaving the aid station with Sarah pacing me now
Mile 80.8-85.6 (17:39 into the race) - Jessica Woods was the aid station captain here and we all probably spent a little too long chatting.  I recounted how Mark through up a few blocks after this aid station last year upon trying some 5-hour energy.  Jess has some baked potatoes cut into small pieces at this aid station so I ate some of those and took some in a cup for the road and put it in the bike rack.  So Joe took a break from pacing duties and went with Kelly to go on to mile 90ish for the next pacer change.  That meant I would be running with Sarah and Aleks would continue biking with me.  Each mile would be a new record biking for her at this point.  We make our way down some residential streets before turning onto Brighton Beach Ave and then Coney Island Ave.  The language around us changed to Russian for a little while before we finally got onto the Coney Island Boardwalk.  The Boardwalk was packed!  We were to follow it for nearly 1.5 miles before making a right at the parachute jump.  It was close to 10PM and people were drunk or in a partying mood and the boardwalk was filled with people and with garbage.  All the garbage cans were overflowed with trash.  Running on the boardwalk was not that comfortable even without all of the traffic.  The wooden planks did not feel stable and it was best to run on the planks that were facing the direction I wanted to run in.  Not the ones that went diagonally across.  Some seemed loose and they were moving too much as we ran.  We got way too many comments from people as we ran.  Mostly questions as to why we are running.  We finally make that right and are supposed to run by the Coney Island ballfield (home of the Cyclones) but ended up running a little more in the middle of the parking lot.  So we made our way over to where we needed to be and then crossed some heavy traffic roads when we had the light and still almost managed to get hit by a car that was making a right turn but not expecting people to be crossing a street.  Once again, we are running on the side of the Belt parkway.  I am feeling hungry and most of the potatoes in the cup were lost riding over some rough streets and bumps.  I was looking forward to the aid station.  Soon enough we see the Wendy's that is right near where the aid station is.  I pass one runner right before we get there.
The start of the Coney Island Boardwalk

It was about to gt very crowded and we had to get to the parachute jump (tall structure way ahead)
Mile 85.6-90.8 (18:38 into the race) - Given what this race is, being somewhat underground with support but not massive support like you would expect at the 100-milers with 200+ runners, the race director puts on an incredible race and organizes great volunteers to help.  The one and only issue I had was at this aid station.  All they had was water and sports drink.  No food, no ice.  At this point in the race, it was disheartening to hear we had to go another 5 miles before getting some food.  And there weren't any stores in this area to grab food at.  The Wendy's a block away that we passed could have been used if one really needed ice/soda or food.  But it closed at a certain time.  So I filled up my water bottle and we headed on out.  We stay on the bike path on the side separated from the Bay Parkway for about 4.5 miles.  This section is dark but there were still so many people out fishing or just hanging out; not to mention people riding their bikes at what is now around 11PM.  This part felt tough.  I was more ingrained in run/walk but the run was at a slower pace even though I didn't feel like I was moving slower.  Sarah was very good at doing what I remember her doing when I would lead a pace group in Team in Training.  She would go out faster than the pace group was going and just pull along the people who followed at a faster pace.  While that's not what the runners in the pace group should generally do, thinking about the race now, I'm glad she was getting me to move a little faster even if it required more frequent walk breaks.  Most likely I still would have taken those walk breaks anyway.  So I would just go along until I felt like something was overheating and would walk for a 30-60 seconds.  It really took forever to reach one of the checkpoints on the turn sheet; going underneath the Verrazano bridge (I like to say we did go through all 5 boroughs because the NYC Marathon starts on the Verrazano bridge and here, we are running under it).  We could see the bridge in the distance and it seemed like it kept getting closer but it felt like those 2+ miles took forever.  Well if I was running slower then it makes sense it took longer to get there!  Maybe a mile after the bridge, Aleks was hoping for a rest room but since I felt like it was time to take a break for #1, we found a section that had some bushes to the side and some concrete blocks to block the view and we went.  Aleks though forgot to turn off her green blinking light attached to her shorts so she was basically about to shine a spotlight on her bathroom routine.  I mentioned that to her and she turned it off.  She had thought one of us was pointing our headlamps at her and Aleks had specifically told us not to look in her direction.  This section just lasted forever.  All I kept saying was that I want this section to be done and really want to get to mile 95 or at least be done with the race completely.  Sarah, like Joe before that kept saying that I'm not running slow and I'm making great time.  We did pass a few people on this stretch.  I didn't know what place I was in but I figured I was close to top 10 if not in it already.  Finally, we see the end of the path and make our way up (so lots of walking here) into Owl's Head Park then exiting the park and going on a couple streets before entering Leif Ericson Park where the aid station was.
Sarah and I with the Verrazano Bridge behind us




Mile 90.8-95.8 (19:52 into the race) - At the aid station, I was disappointed to see Gray Weaver there because it meant he dropped out of the race.  But he was in great spirits and happy to be helping out here.  I also heard from him that Snipes was still out on the course and he even found Jacqueline Choi's (another runner) credit card that she dropped earlier in the race!  I didn't feel like I could eat real food here even though they had some nice snack options.  They did have soda and I figured, caffeine and sugar would be a good combo and you don't need a good stomach to digest that liquid fuel so that's what I took.  I heard a lot of good words of encouragement from all of my pacers at the aid station and the aid station volunteers as well.  I did find out that I was in 9th place but spent a lot of time looking at their sheet and asking too many questions about other runners instead of just preparing to head out.  That's not a bad thing because my mind wanted to know these answers and with 10 miles to go, there is still plenty of time to enter slow walk mode and it could take 3 hours to do those 10 miles if I'm not mindful of taking breaks when needed.  So all my pacers head out of the park with me for about a block or two before Sarah and Joe head towards a subway to eventually meet me at mile 96.  So it's Aleks as usual on her bike and now Kelly running with me.  Kelly was very entertaining on the run.  At this point in the race and at night, a runner can just feel tired and not feel like talking much and feel more like sleeping.  She was in great spirits and was talking about lots of things.  The race had us running on 4th Avenue (same as the NYC Marathon) going from 66th St. all the down to 1st street and actually one block more to Carol Street.   This stretch was somewhat annoying because we had to make sure the street was clear of traffic before crossing.  Doing that for 66 blocks was a hassle but at least we really only had to pay attention to one direction each block because the streets are one-way.  But it also entailed running off of curbs and up onto curbs.  This section on 4th Ave was 3.4 miles long.  It sure did feel like it but felt easier than the prior section with the bridge.  I think the reason it felt better was I was able to judge my running and walk breaks using the street numbers.  I would set a goal in my head that I want to run 5 blocks or 10 blocks before taking a walk break.  Then take a 1-2 block break.  Then start running again.  Sometimes I would run an extra block or two if the light was in our favor or about to change.  We hit the single digit blocks and soon enough, make a left on Carol Street.  Then we pass some through a very nice neighborhood with amazing brownstones until making a right onto Hoyt st.  This was more like the normal city streets I am used to with storefronts everywhere.  We're doing great and run/walking and heading into the final aid station before we cross the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan and to the finish.

Mile 95.8-100.4 (really 103 on my watch.  ??? time into the race!) - Finally, I've been waiting for this aid station forever.  I knew I would be picking up all of my pacers and we would all be heading into Manhattan to finish the race.  At this aid station, Mary Arnold was here as well as Paul Kentor.  She did have Rum and Whiskey but I passed on it because my stomach still wasn't great.  Instead I had some Gingerale because it had the calories and may help calm my stomach.  Paul filled my waterbottle with ice and water.  I was trying to spend a lot of time there but Paul would have none of that and got me out of there before I wasted more time.  So this was it.  The final section.  We all knew how to get to the Brooklyn Bridge and then it was just a matter of getting to Times Square.  Unfortunately, we had to go UP the bridge.  There was no way I was going to waste energy going up the bridge when I had 3.2 miles to run in Manhattan.  So I walked the up part of the bridge.  Whether daytime or nighttime, the views from the Brooklyn Bridge are always incredible.  We got some pictures on it as we walked.  One of the buildings also had a clock and I figured it may be possible to still break 21 hours or finish before 2AM but it would be really tough.  When we got near the top of the bridge, I started to run.  As the bridge then went downhill, I really started to run and I didn't tell anyone what I was doing.  I figured they wold figure it out.  I may have shocked them a little because I picked up my pace to 8 minute miles and faster going down the bridge.  Once I got to the end, I took a needed walk break.  Then we continued doing run/walk but frequent intervals until probably a little north of Chinatown.  Running up Spring Street and then Lafayette, all we could notice was that so many people were starting their night out and waiting in line at clubs.  The bars were packed and the music was blasting from just about every block we pass.  It was at that point when I noticed someone else running with two other people ahead of me.  No one else in their right mind would be out at this time running on these streets so I know it's another one of the racers.  I recognized the person as Michael Samuels who came in 2nd place two years ago.  This gave me a spark of energy so as we got closer I started to run.  I give Michael and his two pacers (all on team RWB - Red White and Blue, raising money for vets) some words of encouragement but I keep running and don't look back.  I have in my mind that they started running too but probably stopped when they realized they couldn't keep up with my pace and I wasn't stopping.  Finally, probably 15 blocks later, I take a quick walk break, but mostly because we are waiting to cross the street.  I'm pumped with energy knowing we're so close to the finish.  Unfortunately, Aleks isn't able to navigate the streets here as easily as the runners.  And at some point, we lose Joe too but he catches back up.  When we get to Madison Square Park, we accidentally follow 5th Ave instead of staying on Broadway.  When Joe catches up to us, he asks us why we are on 5th ave and we say we are not.  Then I realize that the buildings ahead of us don't look as bright as I would picture Times Square to be and take a look at the street sign and sure enough, we are on 5th Ave.  So we hang a left at the next block and get back onto Broadway.  I looks at my watch and look at the current time of day and I think it says 2:02AM.  I'm a little upset because I see that I was so close to finishing sub-21 hours.  But I'm so close to being done and that's what I was really looking ahead at.  We get to 33rd St. and I know we have less than 1/2 mile to go.  We're all getting excited and trying to avoid the crowds of bar goers.  Finally, we are standing right across the street from the finish line.  The people at the finish are waving as we wave back but are stuck waiting for the light to change and cars to stop crossing the street.  We run towards the finish line and my pacers break away from me while I cross the line (Chalk writing that says TGNY 100 Finish).  And that was it.  But I still had to do my one squat!  Some amazing runners including Mark Leuner and Snipes are in a group called The Animal Camp.  When they finish a race, they do a bunch of push-ups.  Personally, I think doing squats is it more fitting because how hard is it to do push-ups after finishing a long running race?  :-)   Anyway, I was so happy to be done.  I get a hug from the race director and my finishing Buckle.  He also tells me that I finished in 8th place and came in at 20:52.  Because of our late start, I still managed to break 21 hours!  I got my pacers with me and took some pictures with all of us at the finish.  I thanked them for everything, and then went to sit on a yoga mat in the middle of times square and ate some cold pizza.  Two of the earlier finishers, 1st and 2nd place (Tommy Sung Pyon - 15:19 and Sky Canaves - 19:06)  were there and were in great spirits and congratulating me as I did the same to them on their ridiculously fast times.  Speaking of times, here is the Garmin Data on my race http://connect.garmin.com/activity/526639058.

Approaching the finish line in Times Square


Absolutely elated. 

Race Director Phil giving me a finishers hug

I could not have done as well as I did without my awesome crew,  From left to right - Joe Lyons, Aleks Zuber, Me, Kelly Barbera, Sarah Evans
I was still trying to soak everything in and figure out what to do next.  I decided I wanted to stay in Times Square and watch more runners come in.  Specifically, I wanted to wait for Snipes.  I had a feeling if I made my way home to shower and change, I probably wouldn't make it back out.  So I stayed there.  It was around 2:30AM or a little after and I wondered if my pacers wanted to grab a drink somewhere but we all agreed that it was probably better to call it a night and save the celebratory drinks for another day.  Because I was starting to get cold from not moving anymore and Aleks was going to go home, I asked if she could ride home, get me a change of clothes and a towel so I could shower in the hotel room that the race director procured for the runners.  After she left, someone then told me that I could use an empty pizza box for a pillow. Surprisingly, it was extremely comfortable.  I fell asleep for maybe 30 minutes before I got really cold due to water drenching my back from someone cleaning the street 100 feet away.  I decided to get hot chocolate because I was feeling way too cold.  It seemed like Aleks got home really quickly and on the way back, she caught each train right away.  So I took my shower and I felt amazing after that and also from changing into warm clothing.  While my legs were extremely tight and had a lot of soreness, I felt much better.  I ate another slice of pizza.  Aleks recommended I sleep using a bag of clothing for a pillow and lying down on her sweatshirt instead of on the ground.  She then took the subway home.  Unfortunately, it took her about an hour to get back to the apartment after that.  I fell asleep for a short time until another runner came in or some other thing woke me up.   I got a breakfast sandwich from McDonalds.  I passed out for a short time.  The pattern continued but with less sleep as more runners came in and I would watch them and how they felt after finishing.  Around 7AM I got a breakfast sandwich, a Boston Kreme donut, and a Strawberry Coolata from Dunkin Donuts.  Snipes called and told me he was at the last aid station and was probably going to finish around 8:30-9AM.  And shortly before 9AM, he finished.

I look like a dead body.  Sky Canaves, 2nd place overall is sort of mocking me.  


After my shower and a change of clothes.   

Snipes finishing the race!

I was so happy he stuck with it and finished.  He deserved this one!
Epilogue - I didn't sleep well Sunday night due to my body feeling like it was on fire and when I moved my legs they hurt a little.  Still, I got up and walked the roughly 3 miles to work in the morning. I walked home after work too.  On Tuesday morning I ran to work, albeit slowly, and felt like my legs were still tight.  But then I ran to practice with Team in Training and my legs felt fairly loose and I didn't have any soreness at all.  About two weeks later, I've picked up my mileage but haven't done any speed workouts yet.  That will happen now in week 3 post race and we'll see how it feels. 

I'm incredibly thrilled that I was able to hit that goal time of sub-21 hours.  Out of 55 people on the entry list for the 100-miler, 35 finished.  There's no doubt that weather played a huge part in the results.  The last two years, the temperatures were in the 90s and the humidity was high.  Just running in that type of weather one week later made me thankful I didn't have to deal with it during the race and shows the real strength of the runners that finished the race in 2012 and 2013.  One thing I wonder is if I could go sub-20.  These races are so long and take so much mental and physical stamina that any small mistakes can come back 10-fold and make you pay later on.  So when I wonder if I ran my pace the first 30 miles, would I have been as strong the last 30 as I was for this race?  I think it is something that only a lot more training and more races and practice will tell.  But how many more 100s will there be?  During the race, I was thinking about the next 100 in late August, UTMB (Ultra Tour Du Mont Blanc http://www.ultratrailmb.com/page/20/UTMB%C2%AE.html)  and just imagining how tough it will be, since it has over 30,000 feet of elevation gain and the same amount of loss, and it starts in the evening.  So most likely, I'm going to be racing for much more than 32 hours, and going through two evenings.  When I finish (no ifs!) UTMB, I wonder if I will do more 100s.  Experience goes a long way in these races.  But maybe 50s are more my thing.  What I do know, is I do keep thinking about doing more 100s (Western States, Hardrock, Bighorn, and TGNY100 again and again) so maybe they'll always be something I want to do every year.  Time will tell.  For now I'm proud of what I've been able to do and so happy to be surrounded by so many positive people and friends.

I want to give a huge thanks to Aleks for putting up with my training and still coming out to pace me on the bike for 40 miles and not have much interaction with me or my run pacer because she couldn't bike right next to us most of the race.  I also truly thank my run pacers Joe, Kelly, and Sarah for travelling to the outer reaches of NYC to run (slowly for them) and commute on trains and buses from roughly 5PM to 1AM.  I hope you all enjoyed that experience and maybe you will decide to do it one day too and if you do, I will run with you (either in the beginning of the race if I'm running it or I'll help pace you if I'm not running the race).  Of course this race would not be possible without the vision of the race director Phil McCarthy.  The amount of days he must have gone through to organize this and put it on makes running the 100 miles the easy part!  Thanks also go to Richie Innamorato and Trishul Cherns for helping Phil organize and mark the course.  Another big thanks goes out to all the volunteers at the aid stations. Karen Braswell, Mary Arnold, Mary Hogan, Paul Kentor, Jessica Woods Bee Namphung, Wayne Pacileo and Melissa Woods, Gail Marino, Julian Addison, Gary Scarano, Yuri Esperson and so many more volunteers that I didn't name.  Also, Richard Chung, Atsede Aemro-Selassie and Ben Ko for taking photos of the race.  I need a better way to finish this blog entry.  Thanks everyone and next up is Running with the Devil 12-hour in Mountain Creek NJ as a training run for UTMB.