I had heard so much about this race, about how special it was, I simply couldn't pass up the chance to run it. Plus, while I wasn't specifically trained to run 100 miles, I did still have ironman fitness and was four weeks into a 100 mile race training block. I wasn't completely unprepared.
|That's a forced smile...I hurt|
As I did early in the year with the DTR Endurance Challenge 50K, I'm going to write about the lessons from this race instead of a formal race report. But first, I have to send out a special thank you to a person who I credit almost 100% with my finishing. I arrived at the race with no crew and no pacer. Becky La Baron simply adopted me at around mile 48 and paced me nearly the entire way to the finish.
- 100 miles is serious business, fitness alone won't cut it. - I'm fit. Probably as fit as I've ever been in my life. I thought that would be enough to carry me through 100 miles. And the reality is, my fitness was strong enough for the distance. I ran well for the first 50 miles, and then fell apart due to a variety of other reasons not fitness related. Poor nutritional choices, blisters (my god, the blisters!), bad pacing and no game plan, mental unpreparedness all came back to haunt me in the race. My preparation was basically to throw everything I could think of in the back of my car, every pair of running shoes and socks and clothes and food, and just keep trying stuff throughout the race. Kinda the kitchen sink approach...not a great plan. If I ever decide to run 100 miles again, I'll focus at least as much on the non-fitness things as I will on the fitness. 100 miles is serious business. Lackadaisical attitude isn't going to cut it.
- Racing on a whim ain't the smartest idea - So, I said above I'm fit. Sure, it's true. But I wasn't 100 mile run fit. I had raced the Great Floridian Triathlon less then two months ago, and carried that fitness with me. I was just four weeks into building for my first 100 mile attempt at Skydive Ultra at the end of January. I didn't have ultramarathon-specific fitness despite being pretty fit. Second, since I only received my invitation four days in advance of the race, I hadn't tapered. In fact, the Friday/Saturday/Sunday before the race, I had put in serious run mileage as a part of my Skydive Ultra training. So, not only not tapered, but I was actually pretty heavily fatigued going into the race. At shorter distances, general fitness might be sufficient and not being tapered might be manageable. At 100 miles, those things just accumulated to conspire against me.
- Going out too fast really can destroy a race. - I went to Ancient Oaks with no expectations. I didn't expect to finish, but kinda hoped I could. I didn't have any expectations for pace or finishing time. I decided to go so late that I simply arrived free of expectations. And when I began running, I found the trail to be so much fun that I hammered the pace for about three laps (~10 miles.) It was just too beautiful and fun and without expectations I could do whatever I wanted. I knew it would come back to haunt me later in the race, but didn't really know if I'd ever make it to later in the race...no expectations. Well, that 10 mile block took me about 1 hour and 40 minutes to finish. I completed the first 33 miles of the race in 7 hours. And then proceeded to slow down dramatically, requiring another almost 23 hours to finish the next 67 miles. I went from running sub 9 minute miles to crawling along at 19 minute miles. So that whole "don't go out to fast" thing...yeah, that's really a thing. Lesson learned.
- Motivation to continue comes from weird places - I didn't arrive at Ancient Oaks with a steely-eyed resolve to finish. I was prepared to DNF and simply view the race as a training run for Skydive Ultra. But I finished. And motivation to continue despite a strong desire to quit came from some very unlikely places. One motivation was the continued nudges from Becky. She wasn't letting me quit. Plus, by mile 80 or so, after Becky had herself put in 30+ miles pacing me to a finish, I began to feel guilty even considering quitting. She had sacrificed tremendously to help get me that far. I owed it to her to finish. Another place I drew motivation from was the race itself. Ancient Oaks is a bit unusual. The race is held on an ancient nature sanctuary and the people who run the sanctuary are very protective of it. So, the race stays small and cannot be a commercial venture. The race has no entry fee and only about 60 people get to race each year. I felt that, having accepted my invitation, I owed it to race director Mike Melton and to anyone who didn't get to participate because I accepted the invitation to finish. There were lots of other little moments of motivation (e.g. I hated the idea of quitting, finishing 2015 with a hundo would be cool, etc...) along the way, but these were the two unexpected biggies. I never expected to feel like I owed others the finish, but that sense of owing became the ultimate motivator.
- Fixing my feet - I have a huge problem to figure out before I ever consider race a 100 miles again, my feet. I knew going in my feet would hurt tremendously. I knew my toes would eventually be miserable, they hurt even during longish training runs, and I'd likely lose several toe nails. I did not expect to have dramatic problems with blistering. Blisters are simply never an issue for me. The race was a completely different story. My feet hurt as expected, but I never had toe issues. I won't be losing toe nails and don't even have a black toe. But the blisters...oh the blisters. The sole of my right foot had a blister about the size of a tennis ball. My left foot had a matching, albeit slightly smaller, blister. And there were another dozen or so smaller blisters covering my feet. I'm frankly stunned that I was able to finish the race with these blisters. There were points late in the race I knew there was an issue, but I decided to simply continue and not remove my shoes for a look. Had I looked, that might have been the end of my race. If I ever hope to have a better 100 mile race, I need to figure this issue out. Was it a one-off due to lack of preparation? Perhaps. It's time to go to work on it.
There were tons of smaller lessons along the way, but these were the five biggies. #1 is perhaps the least and most surprising. I expected 100 miles to be difficult, but I really had no concept of what a different beast it is compared to any other race distance. There is simply no comparison.
A Few Word on The Enchanted Forest
|Me, on a tree, feeling crappy|
I can't end this sort of race report without a few words on the really spectacular setting for the race. The Ancient Oaks 100 is held in The Enchanted Forest Sanctuary in Brevard County. The trail was a roughly 3.5 mile long mix of sand, single track trail and wooden path. And it was spectacular. The oak trees were stunningly large and old (likely the reason for the race name.) One section ran through a tunnel of 15 foot tall saw palmettos. At night, hogs could be heard rooting and snorting in the bush. It was like stepping back in time. It was truly magical at times.
Despite what was a tremendously difficult race, I'm so glad to have gone. The race was spectacular, the people involved were incredible (thank goodness for the wonderful volunteers...heroes!), the huge contingent of spectators who came just to hang out with us were constantly motivating, and the sanctuary was stunning. Finishing the 100 miles may be the least exciting part of all the positive at this race.
I'll finish with one final lesson. It's a lesson learned at this race again, but really throughout 2015. Impossible is an excuse. 18 months ago, I would have told you with absolute certainty that it would be impossible for me to finish a 50 mile ultramarathon or an ironman-distance triathlon or a 100 mile ultramarathon. Within 11 months, I've completed all three. Yes, of course, there are genuinely impossible things. I can't turn into a shark or jump to the moon. But by and large, impossible is an excuse to not try the epic.