Ann Trason has said before that running hundreds are a thinking personâs event. This race report format is different as I am structuring it around several key âthought themesâ or concepts as they present themselves either throughout the entire race or in major sections of the event. In a way, it closely represents how I mentally approached the race, basing my mindset around certain mantras and not focus on breaking the race down by sections, time or distance (although that will eventually happen towards the end of the race). Hence, I donât remember too many details of various sections of the course as I was too focused on problem-solving, body monitoring and staying in the present moment while planning for the future.
Plan the race and execute the race plan (but with flexibility)
The day started off with my heart rate monitor not working. The race plan had been to use it, at least, for the first 100K to control my effort but, as it was broken, I had to ditch it and run by feel. Not a big deal, as I had tuned myself to know what 125 bpm vs 130bpm vs 135bpm feels like. Nonetheless, I still think I started out faster than my body would have liked as I was starting to feel warm much earlier in the race than I would have liked and the tops of my feet were tingling, telling me that the onset of tendonitis was imminent unless I did something about it (See Troubleshooting - Tendonitis). Oddly enough, I donât think I ever reached 140-145bpm during the race, which is my mouth-breathing threshold, so I think my musculoskeletal system still has a lot of catching up to do with my cardiovascular system.
My main goal was to break 24-hours, without really using crew or pacers. I had drafted out my race plan with estimated times as well as aid station supplies for my drop bags. By the Scuppernong 50K mark, I was ahead of schedule by 45min and I hit the 50-mile mark around 9:30. Setting a 50-mile PR in the middle of a 100-miler was not really in the plan but I had wanted to try and get through the exposed prairies between Hwy 67 and Emma Carlin Aid stations before it got too hot. There werenât any real physical injury-imminent issues so I decided to roll with it as I desperately wanted to get to the 100K aid station to sit in a chair and recuperate.
I lucked out with the weather a bit as sporadic cloud cover gave our small pack occasional periods of reprieve from the sun. As we hit the shelter of the woods after Emma Carlin, the cloud cover broke to allow the scorching sunrays to sear down on the meadows. Even under the cover of trees, I was baking and starting to feel nauseous (See Troubleshooting â Nausea). In my desperation to clear the meadows before it got too hot, I had neglected to take water at a crucial aid station early on around the 20-mile mark because I didnât want to stop and fill an extra soft flask with water and carry that extra weight. That would eventually lead me to feeling like I had a cold and getting chills as a consequence from being very dehydrated at the 50K mark. I definitely did not follow my hydration race plan then but tried to compensate for it after (See Troubleshooting â Dehydration).
I took an extended half-hour aid station stop at Nordic (100K) as I was overheating and had to deal with feeling nauseous, dizzy and tingly. That was still part of the plan though as I had planned to take the extended break at the 100K aid station, which, to me, marks the true beginning of the second half of the race and, by extension, the race itself. For those familiar with the Western States 100 course, to me, Nordic was my Foresthill. The main goal/plan for the first âhalfâ was to reach Nordic in a state of being able to still run well after that. I just never knew how long the break would be but the main focus was to recover, prep for the next âhalfâ, and take as much time as necessary to do so (See Execution vs Ego). I was still an hour and twenty minutes ahead of my predictions so I still had a comfortable buffer, which I knew I could lose in an instant if I did something stupid. Patience. Calm. Chill.
As I left the Nordic 100K aid station, the temps had started to drop and I started to feel a lot better as my stomach settled and all the calories, electrolytes and liquid started to get into my system. After that, my body held up much better than I thought it would as I ran through the night till the wee hours of the morning to finish 2 hours and 47 mins ahead of my goal time of 24 hours. Thank the heavens for hiking poles, Excedrin, my Hoka One One Challengers and copious amounts of Coke.
It all started with some tendonitis. Soon after mile 10, I started to feel the tingles of top-of-the-foot pain and the symptoms of tendonitis on my left foot. I still had 20 miles to go before I could change shoes but I surmised that my calf and/or my tibialis anterior was getting overworked and decided to roll down my left calf sleeve to see if that would help it or not. I was pleasantly surprised when that significantly alleviated the symptoms. Since my right leg was fine, I decided to leave the right calf sleeve as is. I probably looked really funny but, if it ainât broke, donât fix it (see execution vs ego)! I finally got to Scuppernong (50K) where I had a pair of Challengers, in case of emergencies such as this. Changing into the Challengers finally gave me the relief I was looking for and I managed to keep the tendonitis at bay for the remainder of the race.
Due to my stupidity and not following my race plan (it had said âDrink, drink, drink!â), I ended up getting very dehydrated in the span of less than 10 miles (mile 20-30). I had not peed for almost 4 hours and, when I finally did, it would have made a lovely Amber beer. I was concerned once I had gone for 2-3 hours without peeing as that was a guideline someone once told me when I ran the Mohican 100 two years ago. After recognizing the signs, I just started to drink and drink until I was peeing clear and every hour. Oops! Overcompensated a tad! I just reduced my consumption and used the water to cool myself down instead so that I would balance out and not risk hyponatremia, which was definitely a risk as I had not taken salt tabs (See Nausea/Heat) and I could feel my wrist swelling against my Garmin.
Starting from around the 25-mile mark, my hips, quads, lower back and calves were definitely starting to get tight as a consequence from being a little too exuberant through the prairies, the rolling hills and the pine forests. I recalled (paraphrased) wise words from Andy Jones-Wilkins, 10-time Western States finisher (all of them in under 24 hours). âMaybe you are feeling your quads tiring, maybe you need to shorten your stride on the downhills.â I looked down at my watch and I realized that any time I went north of 8:00-8:30min/mile pace, my symptoms would get worse pretty quickly. I rationalized that, in order to hit those speeds, I would be trying to lengthen my stride, go up on my toes to push off harder and lean forward more, which was messing with my form excessively. I started to sit back, shorten my stride (even on the flats) and tried to stay within 9-11:30min/miles for the flats and downhills (kind of, the downhills were short enough that hitting them at 8min/miles for a few seconds was okay). Amazingly enough, I managed to consistently maintain that strategy all the way till the end, except for the last few miles, where I just wanted to be done with the race and maybe had a few seconds where I even went north of 8min/miles for a few seconds.
On the back section from Scuppernong, I was running near an experienced ultrarunner called Arun, whom I noticed was doing butt kicks every few minutes or so. I was wondering what that was about so I asked him about it. He told me that it fires different muscles as well as helps loosen/stretch the quads to prevent them from getting too tight. Gold! While trying to maintain a certain pace (in my case, 9-11min/miles), I have been running with the same form and using the same muscles the same way and for such an extended period of time. I tried it and I found that it gave me good feedback as to whether my quads were getting tight (they were still okay, fortunately). It also gives a light refresher, physically AND mentally, as the muscles fire differently and the brain gets some different neuron signals. Talk about experience!
(See Pre-emptive Mitigation for more on dealing with muscle tightness)
Dealing with early dehydration after mile 25, followed by the heat of mid-day was a tough double whammy. I just started drinking a lot and tossing water/ice on myself. I was also walking more but still trying to keep up with other runners around me, like John Truelove (See execution vs ego). I was talking to John about my stomach and he was saying that he was taking S-caps, on top of Tailwind, while I was still just taking Tailwind. I had not planned on taking S-caps so I did not have any with me. Fortunately, all the manned aid stations had some so I took an S-cap at every manned aid station along the way and that was making me feel a lot better. I was also taking my soft flask, with water and ice, and placing it on vital vascular spots like the carotids, back of the neck, brachial and femoral arteries, to help cool the body down quicker.
In the end, the thing that was the most effective was a really long extended break in a chair at Nordic and some chicken noodle soup to rebalance/reset the system. Every measure up to that point was basically a band-aid to hold me together until I got there.
For me, my weaker musculoskeletal system has always been my downfall in any race. Iâm usually reduced to walking in the final miles of a hundo due to muscles or tendons/ligaments seizing and cramping. My stomach issues usually resolve once it gets cooler. In an effort to pre-emptively mitigate muscular issues as much as possible, I did the following things.
Start stretching early and stretch often. I started doing ragdoll (for the back and posterior chain), standing separate leg stretching pose (for adductors, etc), quad stretches and standing pigeon for the glutes, after the 50K mark every few miles of so. It also gave me a short break to take a few deep breaths to relax and refocus. All it takes is a few seconds to avoid hours of walking. Patience and calm.
Walk early and walk often. (See Execution and Ego) After the 50K mark, I just started walking when I just felt like I needed to slow down, whether be it for my stomach, nausea or muscle tightness.
Cooling/icing the muscles. As I was cooling myself with my soft flask filled with ice, my mind flashed back to the scenes in the movie Unbreakable of Hal Koerner and Killian Jornet icing their quads. Since my quads were starting to ache/tighten a bit, I decided to ice and massage them as well with my soft flask as I was already cooling down my femoral artery near my quads. (Warning - Maybe TMI) At one point, I was desperate (and alone) enough that I stuck the soft flask in my shorts to ice my right hip flexor and glute medius. That also served to cool me down a bit more as there is a lot of vasculature near the groin.
Switched clothing to compression shorts. My calves were feeling okay but my hips (glute med & hip flexor), especially my right hip, were getting pretty taxed and killing me. My left quad was also starting to feel taxed, maybe as a result of some minor compensation for my tight right hip. At Nordic, I decided to switch to my compression shorts to give the muscles some support. I guess it worked.
Picked up hiking poles at Nordic. On the way in to Nordic, I could tell the short, steep hills were going to take their toll on me (if they hadnât already). In order to save my legs/quads, I decided to use poles for the remaining portion of the race. They were a god-send on the uphills as they allowed me to keep a good pace on the hills (~14:30-16min/miles) and a good cadence while walking. I would run with them in one hand and then I would switch to using them during walk breaks.
Taking painkillers at strategic moments. I may get some flak for this but I do advocate smart use of painkillers, especially in hundos. By smart use, I mean, you need to be well-hydrated, donât take an excessive amount in too short of a time and not to use it to mask a serious physical injury. As my feet were aching and muscles starting to ache at Scuppernong (50K), I took one Excedrin there, which is much earlier than I have done in the past but it was just one and was for general achiness and what I thought, at that time, was a fever. I took two at Nordic (100K, six hours later) and one more at Rice Lake (80miles, 5.5 hours later) so I did not exceed the recommendations of 2 every 6 hours and not more than 8 in a 24-hour period. Previously, at Mohican and IT100, I would wait until the pain was unbearable to take it but I decided to be more strategic this time about my pain management and be more proactive about it. Everyone has a breaking threshold level for pain and when they reach it or come close to it is when they start to take painkillers. I was hoping this strategy would keep me away from that precarious precipice for as long as possible.
Taking a moment
Running a hundred is such a long event and it can be very exhausting to be so mentally focused for the entire event, so much so that, if one is doing so, they definitely risk getting mentally burnt out during the later portions of the race. That can be dangerous as those portions are often in the wee hours of the morning when it is dark and one is very tired and sleep deprived. The last thing I wanted was a momentary slip of focus and a resulting sprained ankle or some other kind of injury.
So, how do I take a moment? Stretching (see stretching under Pre-emptive Mitigation), taking strategic breaks at aid stations (see race plan) and, my favorite, stopping to admire the scenery. I have done the last one a couple of times during ultras. For example, stopping at the top of a climb to admire the colorful sunset while pacing Reed at JC5050 or stopping at a small waterfall for a few seconds at Mohican 100 to reenact a scene from Last of the Mohicans. I am guilty of it too but I think most people often get too caught up in the race to take a moment to take in and appreciate the beauty of the nature around them. For this race, as I was running through an open area, I noticed that I could see twinkling stars on the periphery of my headlamp light spread. As no one else was around, I just stopped, turned off my headlamp and stood in the pitch-black darkness to admire the millions of bright stars in the clear sky and the fireflies in the grass. It was an exceptionally zen experience. Calm and chill, then a momentary instance of panic ensued as I realized that I had better turn my headlamp back on before I take another step in the dark and fall into a lake.
âFind the level of intolerance you can tolerate and stay there. It never always gets worse. This too shall pass.â â David Horton
The experience of a hundred is like nothing else. I donât even think a 100K can replicate it as the real defining moments of a hundo start after mile 70-75. As the balls of my feet started to ache after 60 miles of pounding on them, I recall my Mohican 100 race where I had experienced something similar after mile 50. There was something a bit comforting about knowing that I had gone through that experience before and I knew that it was not a sign of any serious injury and that I could tolerate it (perhaps even better now, as I was running in pillowy Challengers as opposed to the tough Peregrines I wore at Mohican). The achey feet, quads and glute medius didnât really pass (It never really does for me. I have yet to experience a time when such things pass in a hundo.) but everything just equalized to a tolerable equilibrium after mile 65 and I basically worked to maintain that for 8 more hours till the end. Thankfully, that equilibrium still allowed me to maintain my 9:30-11:30min/mile running pace to the end.
I would say that experience probably made me more conservative than usual, as my previous experiences of the final miles (>mile80) of a hundo have been, to put it mildly, less than stellar with copious amounts of walking involved. Shit can go south very fast and can last for very long in a race of that length.
Execution versus Ego
If you have made it this far in my race report, my sympathies but congrats! Honestly, I think this is/was the most important point of all for running ultras or any long-distance race, for that matter. I struggled a bit about what to call this point but I finally landed on Execution versus Ego. So, what do I mean by it? What I mean by it is that there is always a dangerous disconnect between what you need to do to execute your race plan to achieve your goal and what your ego is telling you to do. The former is discipline and patience but the latter is insidious and self-destructive. Below are some examples from the race.
1) I did not stop at mile 20 to pick up some water, even though my race plan told me to âdrink, drink, drink!â. Why? I had felt that it was still early enough that it was still not too hot, I was still feeling okay (not great), I didnât want to carry extra weightâ¦. and I didnât want to hang around the pack of people congregated at the aid station. I didnât want to, nor felt like I needed to, wait the 10 seconds for a water container to free up to fill a water bottle. I paid for that bout of ego 5 miles later with severe dehydration.
2) I had rolled down my left calf sleeve to relieve the pressure on my tibialis anterior and calf but I thought that would look funky running with one calf sleeve on. As I reached down to roll down the right sleeve, I realized that that leg is fine, I shouldnât bother it and I shouldnât give a ratâs ass what other runners think I look like. If it ainât broke, leave it alone! I just left it alone until I rolled it down later when it was getting really hot and that right calf started to get tight too. Thatâs execution.
3) It started to rain as I left Scuppernong. As I was feeling sick and chilly (I didnât know that I was dehydrated then. Iâd thought that I was getting sick.), I put on my Houdini light jacket. Everyone else was just running through the rain without a jacket. Some guys werenât even wearing shirts and here I was, wearing a rain jacket but I knew that if I couldnât stabilize myself and get myself feeling better, I was not going anywhere. I left the jacket on until I felt warm enough to take it off.
4) Sitting in a chair at Nordic and staring at the finish line for half an hour, proclamations from the announcer about hundred-milers leaving were starting to make me wonder just how long should I really be staying at this aid station. I was starting to think that Iâm taking too much time and I should just hurry and get moving. All these people are leaving already, even people who came in after I did! I need to or should go with them! Thatâs the ego talking. Patience. Calm. Chill. I ended up passing most of them anyways in the next 40 miles.
5) I would say at least 90% of the KM100 course is runnable, other than the really steep uphills, and that is very, very dangerous for oneâs race plan/strategies and saving oneself for the second half of the race. The prairies very much resembled my local IUXC course and the pine needle forest sections are like the flatter sections of Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood State Forest. So why is that dangerous? As the hills are small, gradual and the flats soft, my ego was telling me that I should be able to run all of this and I did, for the most part, until Scuppernong, where I was slowly imploding and finally realized my stupidity. What I should have been telling myself is not, âI should be able to run all of thisâ but, rather, ask myself, âIf I run this part, is this going to set me up for a good second half of the race?â. The former statement is an ego-centric statement, while the latter question is a race tactic execution question. I started walking and stretching much more after Scuppernong, even on the flats in the middle of the meadows. Of course, part of my race plan or, rather, a hope of the race plan was to get through the meadows before 3pm when the hottest part of the day would be so, in the end, there was a very delicate balance there. In hindsight, I should have not worried too much about the heat as one can always recover from the heat after the temps and the sun drops but if I had inflicted too much muscular damage in the first half, it wouldnât have matter whether I could eat or had a good stomach or not, if my trashed legs wouldnât move.
Finishing in 21 hours and 13 minutes, 2 hours and 47 minutes under my âAâ goal of 24 hours, was surreal to me. I credit my obsessive race prep, discipline, mental fortitude, Arielle for her support, fellow race runners for their sage wisdom and generosity, the race volunteers and organizers, and some great measure of luck that it didnât rain too much, get too hot and I did not get an injury. As Ann Trason likes to say, she always likes for the people she coaches to write down three things they are proud of, three mistakes they have made and three things they would do differently.
Three mistakes (make that four)
1) Not drinking enough early on.
2) Not walking and stretching earlier.
3) Still taking too long at aid stations.
4) Still taking too long to recognize/identify problems and their root causes â running hundos is just a series of problem-solving and doing it quickly is key and comes from experience
Three things I would do differently (make that four)
1) Figure out how to minimize time at aid stations and do it! (maybe instead of a whole half hour at one major aid station, I would break it up to shorter stops at more of them?)
2) Start drinking more early on and pack spare S-caps for hot races
3) Start at a more moderate pace and walking more early
4) Do more race-specific training. Paynetown is good for the ups and downs for certain parts of the course (like between Bluff and Nordic as well as the second half of the course) but more flat, long periods of low gradient running would have been better for the prairie sections of KM100.
Three things I think I did right and am proud of
1) Race planning â this has always been one of my strengths. I think writing down instructions on every drop bag was gold as i could make sure I did the most important things and in the correct sequence.
2) Problem-solving â again, this has usually been one of my strengths. I can solve the problem but I need to have identified that I have a problem first and its root cause before I can address it.
3) Training â this has been one of my best training blocks and I am glad I had the discipline to take more time off when I needed it and not chase miles.
Trail/ultra runner, Designer, Foodie, Rock Climber, World Traveler, Triathlete, Level 1 RRCA-certified coach, NASM-Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES)