Pineland 50 – The Come-Down

It still hasn’t sunk in.

I ran a 50 mile ultramarathon…


Wow. Honestly I’m still in disbelief. Of…like…the whole thing.
I learned a lot during Pineland 50…both about myself and about life in general. I know, that sounds corny, cheesy, and painfully cliche…but it is what it is.
I’ve been pretty lazy for the last two weeks (yikes)…it’s about time I get back on it, get back into “training mode”, and finally put together this race report.

And gee willy, what a race report it is…

OK, so I embellished a little…

It’s a race report like any other. Except… it’s for an Ultramarathon…so that makes it…special? I don’t know, just grasping at straws here trying to continue feeling like a unicorn.

Know what, screw that, of course I still feel special, and rightly so. One more time… 
50 miles.

*ahem* Sorry guys…my “entitled millenial” was showing. I’m done now. really…
According to my buddy Dave (an avid marathoner), at the end of the day it was actually a pretty challenging course. So let’s talk about THAT… since I’m sure that’s what most of you are really here for. (That and my charming wit, obviously)
Pineland – A lovely weekend on the farm

The Salomon Trail Running Festival at Pineland Farms (Pineland for short) takes place at (you guessed it) Pineland Farms and has 7 races over 2 days. Saturday features a 5K, Barefoot 5K, Canicross 5K (5k with your dog), and 10K. Sunday features the distance runs – 25K, 50K, and 50 Mile.

I have no real experience with the Saturday course – rather than run it, I was working as one of the event timers with RaceWire that day. What I CAN tell you is the weather was positively OPPRESSIVE that day.  It was SUPER hot, SUPER humid, the sun was beating down, and apparently there was some sort of “ozone warning”? I don’t even know what that is. Conditions were so bad that the 10K course was almost cut in half and some health officials would’ve probably been just as happy if the Saturday events just…got called off. I’m glad they didn’t – if I were a runner I would’ve been PISSED at that…leave the choice to ME (which they did…downgrades were encouraged).

For the most part it seemed like everyone had a pretty good time on Saturday, and it was kinda fun to see people running a race with their dogs.

And then came Sunday…

Started my day off strong…with a freaking 2:30 am wake-up. While I might not have been working as a timer Sunday…my wife still was. So at 2:30 am up she was, and so was I. By 3:15 we (and the other timers) had left the hotel and were on-site by 3:30. I took some time to wake up, acclimate, and blog some final pre-race thoughts.

It was surreal…just like it always is before a new distance. Mom and Dad (my crew) showed up at 5 AM just as instructed, and we went over the packet, aid station plan, and pace chart one more time. Then 6 AM came…and off I went.

A Course So Nice You’ll Do It Thrice!

I spared the aid station volunteers (and my support crew) from that OBVIOUS joke on race day, don’t worry.

One of the things I liked about this course was how it was easy to mentally (and visually) break it up. I kind of split the course into “The Grove Side” and “The Far Side” (or “The Yurt Side”).

The way the course was laid out, you hit aid stations multiple times – a total of 8 aid station stops on the 25K course. This was another (much appreciated) way to mentally break down the course into bite-size chunks.

So that’s a 25K course – 50K runners did that twice and 50 Milers (me) did that 3 times plus a 3ish mile loop beforehand.

Ultra-long distance breeds…new challenges…

The course didn’t look too bad on paper…but man…those rolling hills will get you. 

Yeah…didn’t think it’d add up like that beforehand. Had this only been a marathon (I can’t believe I just said that) it might’ve been more manageable… but when you’re talking such a long distance EVERYTHING adds up. Including GPS watch fluctuations/issues.

THAT was more than a little obnoxious. I know I covered 50 miles, but between typical GPS watch “non-exactness” and my not running down the exact middle of the course the whole time…over the course of 50 miles I lost about .7 on my gps log. boo. Let’s be clear here (mostly for myself)…I ran THE WHOLE 50 GOD DAMNED MILES. Stupid gps…

The course itself certainly did have its challenges – in addition to those rolling hills there were some sections of the course I absolutely DESPISED – not because they weren’t good…because they were freaking hard to run on (especially 40 miles in).

For the life of me, I can’t remember where it was beyond just “halfway through The Yurt Side” of the loop…but there were parts of the course that went on the edges of farm fields, and the trail was sloped down and to the left. It sucked to run on. And with distance…comes compounded suck (the third lap of that was brutal).

It was also kind of tough running through the thick field grass for some stretches…like running through an unmowed-lawn-on-steroids. Every time I was getting a little “ugh” about the course and the challenge, though, there would be an aid station or the festival area…and I’d perk up a bit.

Course support was pretty stellar

Honestly, if push came to shove… you COULD totally run this race without crew or probably even a freaking waistpack/vest. I don’t recommend it…but the point remains… The aid stations were practically a runner’s buffet, and you basically never went more than 3 miles without hitting one. I’m talking boiled potatoes, chips, pretzels, chocolate, nuts, candy, water/gatorate/soda, pickles, pickle juice, pb & j…sweet lord they had it all! Except bacon. Slackers.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention MY course support.

First off Cape Cod Nutrition Corner. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this in the first place. They sponsored me into the races and all the supplements/hydration I used during training and on race day came from them. They’re the reason I can do Ghost Train 100, too! I’m proud to run as a Team CCNC Sponsored Athlete…their only runner, and CERTAINLY their only ULTRArunner 🙂

Then there’s Jason from Grin Hola – he didn’t sponsor me…but he DID hand-deliver his amazing granola (review coming) direct to my doorstep 2 days prior to the race to ensure I had the appropriate fuel for race day. WOW. So thank you! It was one of few “real foods” I could deal with after mile 30. (stuff is MAGICAL)

And…last but not least…the most important one of all…

That’s right, dear old Mom ‘n’ Dad holdin’ down the fort on race day! Dad posted up in The Grove and Mom at Final Mile Aid Station. We kinda whiffed on my first pass, we got me on 2, 3 and 4, and for 5 and 6 (sorry Mom) I basically told them to pound sand because “I just need to FINISH”. So…thanks for dealing with that.

And they knew…they KNEW…I went out too fast on loop 1. They knew because they paid attention to the pace chart I meticulously crafted (here it is for those who were asking). I was LITERALLY “off the chart” on my first loop. Too fast. Did I listen? No. Of course not. Mistake #2. #1 was going faster than I knew I should in the first place. Don’t worry, it TOTALLY caught up to me on loop 2…and that’s where I learned something vaulable…that I think I already knew…

The people make the event.

Despite the in-the-moment suck, I DID have an enjoyable time…and it was largely due to the people. The aid station volunteers were either cheerful & pleasant or downright bursting with excitement. The festival area (“The Grove”) was awesome too – the energy was great to lift you up. On my 2nd loop through The Grove a woman from Team Six03 was borderline lunatic with her “WOO” screams (hah).

Attitude is everything.

I know how BS that sounds…but it’s true. When you’re fighting such a huge mental battle, positivity, self-confidence, and a “can-do attitude” are literally the only things keeping one foot landing in front of the other. That’s why the aid stations, The Grove, my crew, and my wife at the RaceWire timing table were all so important. Having those boosts helped make my staying positive possible. In my efforts to stay upbeat and “yes I can”…a realization dawned on me:

Everything they say about Ultras is true.

It’s all the same after mile 30. Yes, really. The pain was the same from mile 30 to mile 50. My nutrition struggles were the same. My feet felt the same. Everything really was the same. It got no better, but it got no worse. Same. It became mental. The last 15 miles were tough. The last 10 were harder. The final 5 were the worst…

and that’s when I found “the dark place”. 

They say that mentally you’ll go to “a dark place” late in the race…and I almost got out without hitting it… but I found it. It wasn’t what I expected, though. It wasn’t gloom and doom about succeeding in the 50 miler I was running. It wasn’t “Oh God, what the hell am I doing.” “I can’t do this.” etc

It was about Ghost Train 100.

The exact thought was “What the actual f**k did I get myself INTO?! I can barely finish THIS…how in the HELL am I going to do 100 miles 5 months from now?! I can’t do 100 miles! I’m fighting just to get to HALF OF THAT!”. I was stressing. I was bargaining with myself. 5 months away I was telling myself it was OK to accept anything over 50. Just make it to 60 that day. that’ll be a win. And then I got a grip…

and in that dark place, I found myself

It was almost a moment of awakening. Like the fog cleared and I saw behind the curtain. I saw the struggle for what it really was – mental. I resolved that right now, with less than 5 miles left, it’s time to focus on TODAY, not tomorrow.

And today…I knew I could do it. I knew the whole time. The giveaway was that my doubt in the darkness wasn’t about the 50. EVEN IN THE DARKNESS I knew I could finish this race. I remembered…this is how I felt in the final 3 miles of my first half-marathon. This is the same loathing and self-doubt I felt at mile 20 of my first marathon. I was ready to swear off running altogether then, too.

And I finished both of those only to move on to either a faster finish next time…or the next longest race. And today would be no different.

So I picked it up. I tried to move with purpose again. I demanded speed – had to go as fast as possible, I could still break 12 hours! Just GO.

And as I fought my way back through the final miles I knew. As I came through the clearing to the Final Mile Aid Station for the last time…to Mile 49.1…I knew. As I approached the fork…left for 2nd and 3rd lap, right for finish…I knew.

And when I finally took that right…and turned the corner… and saw my wife on the other side of the finish arch with my green cowbell in her hands…I knew…

I had overcome the final obstacle: myself.  

Ultramarathons – Understanding Why

As I sit here… at 4 am…staring at the calm, quiet, not-yet-sunlit festival area…I find myself marveling at this whole thing.

Ultramarathon.

Like…this is really a thing…and I’m freaking DOING it today…

Whoa.

It has occurred to me at several points throughout this journey that many people don’t really get it. Like…ok, you want a big achievement, you work hard and go do a marathon…good for you, that’s a big deal. Now shut up about it and go to work on Monday.

But longer? …why?

It’s only now, sitting here, hours from the start, that I truly understand why I’m here.

There’s something deeper here.

It’s been an interesting ride these last 7 months. Up until now, the way its always gone is I register for a new distance, I kinda pee my pants a little bit with a mixture of terror and excitement, then I train, show up on race day, have that surreal moment in the first mile of “oh my god I’m really doing this” and then I finish, hurrah.

Not to get all hippie-dippie, but ever since pulling the trigger in (I think) November I think I knew this time was going to be different. I registered for the 50K and after the first 15 minutes of “oh God”…I started to plan. Really plan. At that point I realized if I could do 50K I could do 50 Mile, so I upgraded. And somewhere in that process I discovered the “ultrarunning community”.

Finding my way into the “Ultra community”… and learning what it is…its been a trip. It’s a very different world from that of traditional running. The people seem to be…so much more laid back. So relaxed. They’re not all about the glitz, glamour, flashy finisher medals, and the general to-do that typically comes with road races. The people also seem to be pretty…chill…about the fact they’re running 30 – 100 miles or more.

I guess that makes sense when you consider…

You can pretty much run forever if you slow down.

And these people get that. It’s not about speed. It’s not about being the best, it’s not about the split seconds you beat that guy by. It’s hardly about competition at all. It seems to me that this is about willpower, determination, and the triumph of the human spirit.

Maybe I’m being naive here. Maybe I’m still too much the uninitiated newbie. But that’s how this seems to me. Especially today.

Why?

Because I know my training was good. I know my fitness level is there. I know, physically, I can do this. At this point, it’s all mental. I’m going to hit points where I question why I’m doing this. I’m going to want to stop. Quit. Sit down. I’m going to look at my Garmin and say “sweet Jesus I have 30 miles left”. And I’m going to have to dig deep and find it within myself to continue. To persevere. To fight back the demons clawing at my heels and whispering in my ear demanding I stop and give in to the fatigue and the enormity of what I’ve set out to do.

That is why I’m here.

I’ve come to conquer something. Not a distance. Not a trail. Not a mountain. Something within myself. Something we all have deep within ourselves. That voice that says “no, you can’t”. Damnit, Yes I Can. And I WILL.

And if I can do THIS…I can do anything.

The Quest For 100

In the last three years I’ve learned a lot about myself, my body, and what we’re all capable of. I’ve witnessed people achieve some amazing transformations, milestones and accomplishments, and I’ve had my own fair share as well. With each success I have, each wall I break down…I can’t help but want to see what’s next. What ELSE can be accomplished that was previously “impossible”?

I kind of threw this out there at the end of the year…but didn’t really get into it. This past November I decided to leap off the edge and see, once and for all, how deep the rabbit hole really goes. I decided to see just how far I can come from my starting point of 305 lbs. I decided 2016 is the year of the Ultramarathon.

The final challenge? 100 miles.

Wait…what?

Yeah…like I said, I more or less announced this in a post last December. I realize now, though, that I kind of just used the announcement as a means to make a point (and frankly, looking back, I sounded like an ass doing it). Maybe I was going for shock value…maybe I was drunk on coffee…who knows. Point is…I didn’t explain the whys and wherefores of what really is kind of a momentous thing. I most certainly did not do the thing justice, that’s for sure. I owe it to myself, those supporting me, and to the thing itself to explain what the hell this is all about…and why on God’s green Earth someone would choose to do it.

So…yes. My latest challenge…perhaps the final, top rung of the achievement ladder left to climb…I am delving into the world of the Ultramarathon.

Ultramarathon?

Yes, I’m not making that word up. An Ultramarathon is a running event longer than marathon distance (26.2 miles). There are two kinds – either time-limit (as far as you can go in 6, 12, 24, 48 hours) or the traditional “distance goal” (50K, 50 Mile, 100K, 100 Mile). So…what have I chosen to do?

50 and 100. Yes, Miles.

Those are my two big goals this year. First I’m running the Pineland Farms Trail Festival 50 Miler on 5/29/16. After that…October 22nd to 23rd 2016…Ghost Train Rail Trail Race, where I’ve got 30 hours to achieve my goal of 100 miles. As my prize, I’ll bring home a big green cowbell (Pineland 50) and a rail spike (Ghost Train 100).

“You’re insane.”

Am I, though? Earlier this month I had my last big training weekend – Saturday 4/30 I ran 18 miles. 12 hours later, on Sunday morning, I ran the Providence Marathon. I only slept 4.5 hours in between the two…and I finished Providence in a new personal best marathon time. In the two days after…aside from a slight twinge in my left shin (which we’ll talk about another day) I felt fine. Literally hopping up and down. That’s exactly the kind of shape I want and need to be in with a 50 mile race just weeks away. As insane as it might seem…I’m actually ready for this thing.

The initial decision itself…THAT was a leap. It didn’t happen all at once, either.

At first I registered for 50K. I was nervous. It was DEFINITELY a big deal for me. But once I got over the initial shock I realized…if I can do a marathon, I can do a 50K (so I felt better). And if I could do 50K, I could do 50 Mile (so I upgraded my registration). And if, at that point, I can finish a 50 Miler…well, just keep training and I’ll have the best shot possible at finishing my first 100 mile race. It’s all about the training and trusting the process.

That training, though, HAS been insane.

Those who follow this blog may have noticed…I haven’t written a whole lot lately. It wasn’t really on purpose…its more a result of my free time being completely consumed by training for this latest undertaking. In case you haven’t figured it out on your own yet…training for an ultramarathon means one thing…

You run. All the time. Forever. 

Honestly though, I feel like all I do is run. I’ll spend a good 10+ hours a week running (half of that on the weekend alone). I have to get up at the crack of dawn to get it done so I either get to work on time (weekday) or don’t blow half my day running (weekend).  The downside is obvious…but on the bright side?

I can go run 10 miles without even thinking about it.

My body has reached a point where I could nap through a 5 miler. That intense weekend of Providence Marathon? I was fully recovered in just a couple days. It’s incredible to stop and think about how much I’ve improved my fitness…and sometimes I still marvel at the fact that I really am an athlete. I’m training for a thing that such a small percentage of the population even considers doing…even knows exists. I’m not the fastest guy out there…but when you’re taking on 50 and 100 miles…simply finishing is an accomplishment.

That is why I choose to do this.

Because I can. And years ago, as far as I or anyone who knew me was concerned…it was impossible. Now that I know what I know and have achieved what I have achieved…I want to see just how far I can climb.  With my friends and family behind me, and with the support of awesome sponsors like Cape Cod Nutrition Corner, I know…

This Is My Time.

I’m gonna get that cowbell. And damn it all…I’m coming for that rail spike. And if I can…anyone can. Go get it – I’ll see you at the finish.

Crazy/Normal

I’ve had some realizations lately – 

and I can sum them up quite simply:

People suck.

OK, that’s the harsh, short, exaggerated version. But… there it is.

So why would I think that?

Person A:
“I want to run a marathon!” /  “Let’s go do a 5K!” / “I signed up for an obstacle course race!” / “Wanna come with me to the gym?”

Person B:
“You’re nuts.” / “That’s crazy.” / “You have fun with that.” / “Yeahhhhhh….no.

…I have a problem with this. And you should too. This is a symptom of a bigger problem.

“A bigger problem”?

Think back to “Person A / Person B” and allow me to elaborate on “we suck”:

We reject that which we can’t comprehend/envision for ourselves.

It’s pretty plain to see, I think. Anything outside of our comfort zone…it all falls under the umbrella of “crazy”. People, when offered a chance to step outside their comfort zone and participate in something unconventional…usually don’t even take it seriously and give it thought. A quick dismissal is often the best you get. But it gets worse.

The dreamers are stifled.

All too often this rejection of the “crazy”…the disdain and reproach that is given as a response to these relatively big dreams…is delivered in such a way that “Person A” feels stupid. Feels discouraged. No longer wants to try.

My question to “Person B” is simple.

What are you so afraid of?

Sorry to get all “hippie” on you, but who decided what “crazy” and “normal” are, anyway? Who’s the “crazy” one, really – the guy who takes charge of his life, loses 100+ lbs and eventually runs a marathon? Or the guy that spends his free time turning the couch cushion into a mold of his less-than-firm ass?

Get out of the way. 

There is no room for negativity and roadblocks in this life. We are getting lazier, less ambitious, and less adventurous as time goes on. I have a message for “Person B” – get out of the way of people who want to reach higher. Just because you have gotten too comfortable with “normal” doesn’t mean others can’t break out and do something “crazy”.

And y’know what, “Person B”? Get out of YOUR OWN way – WHO SAYS you can’t go run a 5K? WHAT’S SO BAD about going to the gym? After you WORK YOUR WAY THERE…is a Marathon really so outlandish?

Join me. I dare you.

I am stepping off the deep end, and I dare you to do the same. 2016 is officially the Year Of The Ultra. I will be running:

– 5 Marathons
– 2 6-Hour Ultramarathons (shooting for 30+ miles)
– 1 8-Hour Ultramarathon (shooting for 30+ miles)
– 1 50 Mile Ultramarathon
– 1 30-Hour Ultramarathon (shooting for 100 miles)

Yes. I’m going to attempt to run 100 miles in one whack. Yes, prior to that I will run 50 miles in 12 hours or less (that’s the time limit). Those marathons? The 6-Hour and 8-Hour races?

Honestly…I’m supposed to run 20 – 30 miles those days anyway as part of my training…so I might as well get a medal for it. Hah. Yes, 5 marathons and three 6+ Hour Ultras will be TRAINING runs for me next year.

This plan is going to beat the crap out of me. I’ll be running 50, 60, 70 miles per week. I’ll be cross-training in the gym to stay strong to handle these runs. I’ll need lots of fuel all day long, and Cape Cod Nutrition Corner is going to be coming up BIG for me in that department (they’re sponsoring this whole adventure). But in the end…I think I can tackle it. And if I don’t hit 100? Well, at least I tried. And damnit…I’ll try again later. One way or another, I will finish a 100 mile ultramarathon.

Pretty much everyone I tell about this calls it “crazy”. Know what I say? There is nothing crazy about this. “Crazy” is an opinion. So is “normal”. 

It’s all relative.

“Normal” is simply another way to say “this is where I’m comfortable”. We don’t grow by staying “comfortable”.

Three years ago I had never “gone for a run”, and now I’m staring down over 2,500 miles in 2016. If I had never gone for that first run a 5K would still seem pretty out of reach. If I never started this fitness journey I’d probably be looking at me sideways too. I’d never have known that seeming “far off” and being “impossible” are not the same thing. I’d never have realized that there is no ceiling.

Maybe, just maybe… we should learn to appreciate the bold, daring choices of our peers. Perhaps we could learn to look at these chances people take as a level of bravery we should aspire to. As hope that we, too, can one day achieve something so great.

Maybe, just maybe… if we can all be a little more open…try a little harder…and always take that next step…

we might just accomplish some amazing things.

What’s so crazy about that?