And gee willy, what a race report it is…
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).
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.