Monday, October 20, 2014

Tesla Hertz 100 - Win and course record. Must not be real?!

I'm going to have to make this post a combination of two.  Why?  Because one year ago, I never wrote about my experience with my first and so far only official DNF (Did Not Finish).  So I will start with a short recap of that race one year ago and then the unexpected result this year.

2013 by all accounts was a successful year of running.  I had an incredible run at Bear Mt. (50M), I survived the mudfest at TARC (100M), I made it through the high altitude at Leadville (100M) and finished with a nice marathon in Amsterdam.  But what happened the week before the Amsterdam marathon?  I had signed up for a race called the Tesla Hertz 100 in Rocky Point, NY (Eastern Long Island).  I actually signed up 3 days before the race after checking the weather forecast.  It's a low-key race and only about 20 people started the 100-miler.  The course consists of 10x 10.5 mile loops all on soft trail (lots of pine needles) with only one hill, but it is extremely short, just steep.  Everything else is runnable and quite easy (if it was just a marathon or 50K, the entire thing is runnable).  I had it in mind that I wanted a fast race.  Something in the order of below 20 hours.  But I wasn't going to struggle through for a finish.  Because the Amsterdam marathon was the next weekend, I had to make sure I could run that race.  Normally, I would not quit a race if I could hobble through to the finish.  I told myself, if I felt that I would not be able to get a fast time and that it would be a struggle, I would drop out.  No big deal. So the race started and there were some additional runners who started because the race they originally wanted to run, a ridiculously hard race called Grindstone in Virginia was cancelled due to the government shutdown (the course goes through a National Park, Federal land was closed).  Since they were trained to run a hard race, the pace that was set was pretty quick.  Stupidly, I stayed with the pack.  The course is quite boring to do 10 times.  At some points, there are a lot of turns and others just long straightaways with the same looking woods everywhere.  There were only 4 or 5 spots that I could make as landmarks and they were generally close together. 

So the first loop was done in under 1:35 with one missed turn that cost about 1 minute.  The next loop similar.  So 2 laps in under 3:10 hours translates into a sub-16 hour finish.  That's a lot faster than 19-20 hours!  On the third loop, the wheels just fell off.  The temperature was rising and I was feeling tired.  My legs were fine but I was feeling like I was running too fast and was forced to walk to catch my breath.  In the first 5 miles of that loop I went from running 9-9:30 minute miles to run/walking 12 minute miles.  I know how this story plays out.  I was slowly just getting "out of it".  I made a wrong turn, realized it and walked back to where that happened.  Then I missed another turn and was lucky that another runner, the legendary Byron Lane called out to me from 50+ yards away to say I missed the turn.  (An update for 2014, they marked the course impeccably in 2014 with arrows pointing at turns and flagging tape set across the places we should not turn just in case).  So I slowly walked back and was doing a lot of slow running and walking until the loop ended about 3 miles later.  I felt terrible and decided that it was better to quit now after 50K of running than to keep going and then kick myself for not dropping earlier.  So I pulled the plug.  Strangely enough, I felt great about that decision.  I told the Race Director of the decision and had a smile on my face.  I thanked him for putting on the race and told him I just know that it isn't my day and I was ok to drop out. 

When I got back to the car, I started to feel light headed and sick.  I dry heaved a little.  When I thought it all passed, I started to drive home but after 5 minutes, I was forced to pull over to the side of the road and go again.  Then I got back in the car cranked the A/C and 10 minutes later I started to drive again but was lucky enough to spot a convenience store and use their bathroom (#2).  I bought some gatorade and seemed to be ok after that.  But that reinforced in my mind that the decision to drop out of the race was the correct one.  My plan was to run a fast race or not finish.  The latter was the only possibility that day.  It turned out, many other people had the same idea.  Only 5 people finished the race.  The winning time was 24:08.  I don't know what time I could have produced if I walked the 4th loop and then just took it easy running the next 6 but maybe I could have won?  But I never considered that a possibility and remain happy with my decision to drop out. 

Fast forward through 2014.  I think 2014 was a much better year than 2013.  While it started off with a lower back injury for the first 3 weeks that prevented me from running, it only got better from there.  I ran Bear Mt. (50M) and had an even faster time than 2013, coming in 35th place out of a very large field of runners.  I ran TGNY 100 in June and placed 8th overall in 20:52, over 2 hours faster than my fastest 100.  In July I ran my first timed event; the Running With The Devil 12-hour up and down Mountain Creek Ski resort in New Jersey and took 3rd place overall with 49 miles.  Then in August I ran one of my bucket list races, UTMB (105M) and finished under 36 hours and was thrilled with that.  I had no idea how the recovery from UTMB would go.  All I had on the calendar post-UTMB was the NYC Marathon 2 months later.  Would I be able to race it fast?  Well, recovery took longer and I had some weird pain in my leg so I took time off from running for about 2 weeks.  When I started running again, I still had some speed, but not enough to be comfortable to try and have my fastest NYC Marathon.  So my eyes then were drawn to Tesla Hertz 100 again.   Could I possibly run this race fast?  I continued to assess my recovery and fitness and as each day passed by, I felt that I could take on a 100-miler and run under 20 hours.  Then I thought about it and figured, maybe I can do this race in 18 hours?  It is "only" 4 marathons in a row at a 10-minute mile pace (6mph).  So with that 18-hour handle in mind, I was checking the weather forecast and was not going to sign up if the weather looked bad.  The Wednesday before the race, the forecast called for rain in the morning.  I knew that the course drains very well because it was fine last year even with a lot of rain leading up to the race.  So I pulled the trigger and signed up Wednesday night. 

The race:
I tried my best to set up my bags at the start/finish of each loop to be quick and efficient.  My go-to fuel would be Powerbar gels and chews.  The race began at 6AM and it would be dark for close to an hour after the race began.  Everyone except me wore a headlamp.  I used my "Sniper Scope".  A gift given to me from David Snipes.  It's basically a small LED flashlight that has some stretchy lace cord tied around it and can be attached to the neck of a handheld water bottle.  So you can hold the water bottle as you normally would and it would provide you with good lighting.  I figured I'd save the headlamp for the night section.  The course is a loop with a short out and back to the one aid station (aside from the start/finish) about 5.5 miles away, then 5 miles back a different way to the start/finish.  I decided I would just need 1 bottle to start and if I ended up needing another, I would pick it up after the loop finished.  It began raining about 6+ hours before the race began and continued with rain at the start.  It was a nice rain though and although heavy at times, the trees really caught most of the rain and because I was moving fast enough, I didn't feel cold.  The rain prevented me from overheating.  So I started out as the lead runner in the race.  I dont know how many people were behind me because I never looked behind me.  After about 1 mile, I wasn't sure where the trail went because my light wasn't good enough to see it clearly.  So I let the runner behind me lead the way.  I was chatting with him and the new runner behind me about what races they've done. The one in front, Palmer Smith, had ran a 100-miler in May called Peaks 100, which is 10x 10 mile loops on a much tougher course in Vermont.  My friend Mark Leuner finished a 200-mile race there and this person's coach (Nick "Storm Tropper" Baustista) finished a 500-mile race.  The one behind me, Tyler Rindock was running his first 100-miler.  I had no idea what times they were looking to finish in but my watch was hovering around 10-minute miles (18 hour pace) so I was happy.  After about 3 miles, I feel someone right on my heels so I let him pass but he gets stuck behind the leader.  We talk for a couple minutes and learn that he had finished the Badwater 135-mile race in Death Valley a year ago and crewed for a runner this year.  A few minutes later, he passes the lead runner and takes off and as he does that, another runner throws down the hammer and runs away from us.  Our pack did not chase them.  We finished the first loop in 1 hour 41 minutes.  I took just over a minute at the aid station to fill up my water bottle, and grab some gels from my bag. 

Right before the start. I am the person with the light by the waist (holding my sniper scope bottle)

Then we headed on out for loop two.  I ran this loop with Palmer Smith in front of me by about 25 feet most of the loop.  This loop was faster.  Most of the miles were being clicked off close to a 9 minute/mile.  However, I tried to rationalize the pace by telling myself I'm running comfortably.  I tried to confirm this by focusing on my breathing.  I would breath in through my nose for four foot strikes, and then out through my mouth for four.  If it felt like this was hard to do, it would mean I was going to fast.  It wasn't hard to do so I maintained that pace and just focused on running easy.  I had no desire to catch up to the other runners.  My sole goal for the race was 18 hours.  I was well ahead and the race was early so I was just trying to focus on 18 and how I was feeling.  I finished loop 2 in around 1:37.  I only spent 50 seconds refilling my water and grabbing gels and chews from my bag.  I left before Palmer who was taking more time at the aid station. 

About three miles into the loop, I saw the Badwater finisher ahead of me.  He was walking but then picked up and ran. I caught up to him about half a mile later.  I pass him during his walk break and say "nice job" and when I get 10 feet ahead he asks what distance I'm running (They start shorter races (100K, 50M, 50K) about every 30-60 minutes after the 100-miler starts).  I tell him the 100-miler and he says in a somewhat surprised and defeated tone, "Oh my God, you're passing me?".  I didn't really know what to make of that.  But I responded right away with, "Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be passing me later in the race". My guess is he was solely focused on winning the race and took off very fast and it was catching up to him early.  I figured this put me in 2nd place.  But again, I didn't care much about my position.  The race was still in its infancy and I was focused on a specific time goal, not a podium finish.   So I check off loop 3 in 1:36.  Damn, that's fast.  I figure it will probably catch up with me later but I still feel comfortable. Maybe I should have gone at an even more comofrtable pace or take walk breaks?  I hit the marathon mark on my watch at around 4:05 so that was around a 16:30 finish if I could maintain it.  I knew I wouldn't be able to maintain that pace and was just hoping I could hang on when the going got tough and that I could postpone that until much later in the race. 

So the pattern continued for the next two loops except the rain finally stopped about 7 hours into the race.  The course dried up incredibly fast.  Within a couple hours, nearly all the puddles were gone and there were no muddy sections at all to deal with.  Incredible!  The only change I noticed now was I was passing runners and was passed by about 4 runners but I didn't know if they were running the 100-miler or the shorter distances.  So I figured I was still top-5 but probably top-3 but it still didn't matter because the race was half-way finished and it's a long second half.  My mantra this race was "18-hours, 18-hours".  Just focusing on that time and not caring what place I'm in.  If 18-hours is good for 1st place, awesome!  If it is good for 20th place, still awesome!  People always ask, "what do you think about when you're running for 18-36 hours?"  I thought about that question this race.  A lot of what I thought about was how do I feel?  Am I running too hard.  Is anything bothering me?  Am I hungry, thirsty, tired, etc.  If "yes", what do I need to stop that negative?  Other times, I just think of random things.  Life - friends, work, news, family, food.  But most of the time, it was focusing on the race and running properly.  So I continued to run at a comfortable pace, checking my breathing occasionally and making sure to drink and take in gels and chews to keep my energy balanced.  Heading into mile 46ish, I caught up to Juerge Bandle who was in our shared house in Chamonix and ran UTMB.  He's a fantastic person and it was great to see him on the course and chat with him.  He was doing the 50K as a tune-up for a race Nov 1st, called Javelina Jundred in Arizona. 

Once I completed my fifth loop, I felt like I needed some additional calories and not from gels/chews.  I went to the aid station table and took about half of a banana and a few squares of Rice Kripsy Treats.  Then I filled up my bottle with water, restocked my gels and chews and took off.  Within 100 meters of leaving the aid station I felt some sharp pain in my left hip.  It felt like some severe tendinitis in the joint/hip flexor area and would make stepping incredibly painful.  I tried sticking my knuckle in the area to massage it out and it helped slightly.  I tried for about a minute to stretch and work on it and it helped a little.  It would be on and off that entire loop.  That loop took 1:50.  About 10 minutes slower than the last one.  Not bad considering the pain.  So I took some Tylenol I packed and ate some more bananas and 2 Rice Krispy Treat squares.  I wanted more though.  The aid station bought one of the gigantic squares (I think it is 5 pounds and one big block) and they were going to cut up a portion of it to put out onto the table.  I asked if I could just have that very large piece (probably 8 inches by 3 inches).  They reluctantly gave it to me.  I just put it in my mouth to carry while I stocked up on water and gels/chews and walked out of the aid station eating the giant treat. 

Loop 6 was 1:50 and 7 was closer to the 2 hours.  I was still trying to run comfortably, but what felt comfortable ended up being a slower pace.  On loop six I saw Paul Arroyo and slowed down and chatted with him for a couple minutes.  He had not done anything since TGNY in June and was doing this 100 to get time on his feet for Javelina 3 weeks later!  Crazy!  He ended up dropping out of the race at some point.  At the aid station at the start, they ran out of Rice Krispy Treats but they had some Potato Pierogies which were delicious.  The Tylenol did its thing by keeping the pain mostly in check.  Once I finished loop 7, it was going to be dark in about 15 minutes so I needed my headlamp.  It was time to bring out the secret weapons, my iPod and my second water bottle to fill with Mountain Dew.  That definitely helped with my energy level but then the pain started to show up again.  I finished loop 8 in over 2 hours.  I needed Tylenol again but I didn't have any more so I asked if they had any at the aid station.  They only had Advil at the start/finish and I don't like taking chances with mixing running and Ibuprofen.  They said they had Tylenol at the halfway aid station.  So I had to struggle through 5.5 miles to get my drugs!  Loop 9 eventually was finished in 2 hours 20 minutes and a cumulative time of 16:55.  So I knew my 18 hour or below finish was not possible.  But I still had a chance at sub-19.  Since this was my last loop, I took my time at the aid station making sure I fueled up and I decided to ask what place I was in.  They asked what distance I was doing and I said the 100-miler and they asked what loop I was on and I said I just have one more to go.  They said if I only have 1 more to go I am in 1st place because every one else has at least 2 more loops to do.  This was not completely a surprise to me because earlier in the loop I passed Byron Lane, the same one from above that told me last year I missed the turn.  I had passed and then was passed by him earlier, around loop 5 and 7 I think.  He was struggling a bit but he told me that I was in first place because there was no one except for me and three other people that were running the shorter races that passed him that day.  So since I was the only one that had looped him, it would mean I was in first and if there was someone else close behind in second place, well, they are still somewhere behind! 

So it was nice to hear confirmation going out on my last loop that I was in first place.  I knew that getting below 19 hours would be nearly impossible considering the extra time I spent at the aid station.  I was happy to know that I just had one more loop to do!  And hopefully it would take me under 2:30 to do it.  I changed into a long sleeve shirt and also changed the batteries in my headlamp because it seemed not as bright as I thought it should be.  Unfortunately, the spare batteries I brought were dead!  Luckily, someone at the aid station had extra AAs and they worked!  Thank you!  All of this added up to a lot of time spent in the aid station before heading out on the final loop but I eventually left.  It really felt like I was going faster than a 2 hour pace but I was taking frequent walk breaks and my pace wasn't faster than 10 minute miles.  When I got to the turnaround at the other aid station I just said thank you to the volunteer who was there all day and night and ran right back out. I looked at my watch and it said 100 miles and the time was 18:04.  So I did get my 18 hour 100-mile finish!  Now just to do 5 more miles and be done running.  At times this final 5 miles took forever.  But once I hit that hill for the last time, time started to go by faster.  I think I also started to move faster too.  One of my landmarks was a road crossing about 1 mile from the start/finish.  Once I crossed that I started to move faster knowing the finish is so close.  With probably 400 meters to go, I started to open up and run fast.  Although fast at this point was probably a 9 minute mile.  I ran hard through the finish line and signalled that I was done!  It took them a while to realize I was done because I finished the race, not that I was dropping out.  Vinnie, one of the race directors was bundled up and sleeping while the other, Nicole, was congratulating me and giving me some of my finisher things and taking some pictures.  Then she woke up the race director Vinnie who got up to congratulate me and take a good picture after I changed into some warmer clothing.  (edit - I just want to emphasize this is not a knock on Vinnie.  There were probably less than 10 runners on the course and he had been up for who knows how many hours setting up this race.  He has a co-RD to help and the best thing to do in between these runners coming through is to get a few winks so you aren't a zombie when yo uare needed). Then she made me a fabulous quesadilla and some soup.  I sat around for about 30 minutes or so trying to get my eyes to adjust as they had clouded up a bit.  Note to self: I have to buy a pair of clear running glasses to protect my eyes because they become clouded during cold and long runs. 

The volunteers at this race were fantastic and stayed there many, many hours.  The food selection was great too but I went with my own type of food strategy the first 50+ miles.  But they had everything I would have wanted had I not had my own gels/chews.  The course itself is boring in my opinion.  But that's because I love mountain races.  I'm only now getting used to a loopy loop type course (I've done Knickerbocker 60K - ~9x 4-mile loops, Caumsett 50K - 10x 3.1-mile loops, Running with the Devil 12-hour (I finished 16x 3 mile loops and 2x 0.5 mile loops).  I still would prefer a point to point, one big loop, or an out-and-back course and something that has some nice climbs and great views at the top of those climbs.  But for anyone looking to run a flat, non-technical trail race from 10.5 up to 105 miles, this is a great race to do.  One negative from the race.  I was wearing my good rain jacket before the race began and since it was wet, I put it on the outside of my bag in the "drop bag area".  Since I couldn't see it at night after finishing, I completely forgot about it and left it at the race (or someone else took it).  So I lost my rain jacket.  But looking on the bright side, although that was a good running rain jacket and only cost $50 (yay North Face outlets!), I'm now in the market for a much lighter, far more compact waterproof and breathable running rain jacket.

With Co-race directors Vinnie and Nicole. 
So here are my Garmin splits and the time spent in aid station before starting the net lap (which counts towards that next lap's time) I spent 39:33 in aid stations.  1/3rd of the time spent in aid stations was the stop right before my last loop.  

Lap 1 = 1:40:39 
Lap 2 = 1:38:13 - 1:57 in aid
Lap 3 = 1:37:35 - 1:29 in aid
Lap 4 = 1:42:43 - 0:52 in aid
Lap 5 = 1:49:12 - 4:09 in aid
Lap 6 = 1:52:05 - 4:06 in aid
Lap 7 = 1:58:05 - 5:17 in aid
Lap 8 = 2:09:20 - 3:27 in aid
Lap 9 = 2:26:35 - 5:09 in aid
Lap 10 = 2:27:46 - 13:07 in aid
Total = 19:22:08 

2nd place finished 2 hours 17 minutes behind me and 3rd place was 6:30 behind me.  Only 6 starters finished.   I can almost guarantee someone will run faster than I did next year.  I'm looking forward to one or many people running this race well under 19 hours.  I wouldn't be surprised to see a 14-hour handle end up on this race in the next year or two. 

My mantra for this race was "18 hours".  I think that was important to keep in my head.  Not really caring about who was ahead or how far behind the next runner was let me try and focus on my own race.  While I didn't get my 18-hour handle, I was still happy that I was fairly close and am confident I could do it in the future.  This race is so long compared to marathons and shorter where it's ok to focus on time and put fun in the corner a bit.  Here, if I don't stop to walk and chat with other runners, chat with aid station workers and just get myself in a more positive mood, then what's the point?  I'm not ever going to be close to the elite level in this sport but I can be happy with my results and enjoy running with others and run my own race as well.  I can still do both!  

1 week later:
So as I am finishing up this recap a week later, I'm starting to feel pretty good about the win.  I still know that it was just a matter of luck.  No super fast people (16-hour or faster runners) showed up and the ones that did that I think are faster than me didn't have good days and dropped out, similar to what I did last year.  Had I not dropped out last year and/or ran a smarter race, I may have been defending my first place title this year!  Anyway, I was walking mighty gingerly on Sunday.  Stairs were slow and going down was done sideways and holding onto the railing for much needed support. Aleks and I did laundry Sunday night and walking the few blocks to and from the apartment a few times was nice active recovery!  Monday was much better.  I was walking normally by the evening.  I didn't run again until Saturday.  I ran about 12 miles with Team in Training (doing the last 10 miles or so of the NYC marathon course) and wow, my knees were sore and I was hurting.  The last couple miles felt like one feels when they are really pushing it or went too hard during a marathon.  I just couldn't go faster and just wanted the run to end.  Granted, I could have stopped at any moment.  But I wanted to get back to Central Park and hang out there.  Truth be told, since mile 10ish of UTMB, I was and still am experiencing some strange dull pain about 2-3 inches below my knee which feels like the bottom of the patella tendon.  Sometimes I feel it and sometime I don't but it never gets worse.  Hey, I ran UTMB with it and just finished this race so if it were something serious, I'd probably know. ;-)  Still, I think I'll get it checked out after the NYC marathon. 

Towards the last 50K of the race, I was in a somewhat low spot with the hip pain, some chafing, and what we usually feel like at that point in a 100-miler.  I recall thinking to myself that this will be the last 100-miler I do for a long time (I always say that. . .) and I don't want to suffer for nearly two days if I get into Hardrock.  Even Western States, which I would hope to finish under 24 hours sounded terrible.  Fast forward a few days and I was even thinking of coming back and doing Tesla again next year!  Pain is temporary, low points quickly turn to high points.  If ever there is a time when things get tough in running or life, you should always take some time and just let the bad moments pass.  Great things lay ahead.  It just takes one step at a time to get there. 

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