Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Woodstock Weekend: Ain't That a Bitch!

This should be a pretty damned brief race report.

I set out to run my first 100 miler this weekend at the Hallucination 100 in Pinckney, Michigan. After my success there over the past two years, I figured this venue would be an ideal place to attempt my longest run ever. My first ultra experience was the 50k in 2009, and my first ultra win was at the 50mile in 2010.  The course almost seemed tailored to my strengths last year. Enough roads to drop a comfortable 6ish minute pace, hilly enough to keep the muscles from becoming tense, and cool enough to keep from overheating. The aid stations are close, keeping the need for excess baggage to a minimum. I would have a top notch crew of knowledgeable runners- My usual training partners Jason Robillard and Jeremiah Cataldo and my college teammate Evan Groendyk. If there was ever a person who had every tool for success at their fingertips, its this fellow right here.
I found a wig and a Nathan Vest in Jason's "ultra box."
Not sure which item to ask about first.
Shelly said I look like Snookie.
The above picture is the result of the 4pm start of the Hallucination 100. Give me all day to dick around, and this is what happens. I ate a prerace lunch of McDonald's and 1 pack of candy cigarettes. We had a ton of fun goofing around in the days leading up to the race and it really helped quell my nervousness.

Shirtless clown with the afro. Damned humidity...messin' with my fro.

When you only run 25% of the race, you look pretty fresh in all the photos.
The race started and I felt pretty relaxed. The humidity was higher than I'm used to, but once the sweat got going it went mostly unnoticed. I was toward the front of the pack, but knew it was too long of a day to count any chickens. You can't win a 100 in the first few miles, but you sure as hell can lose it.

Within a mile, I noticed that I was favoring my right knee. My form felt a bit off as I reluctant to bend it in the normal range of motion while running. For any other distance, this wouldn't have phased me, but knowing that I had about 95% of the race left in front of me, some negativity started creeping in already.

Knee pain aside, the first lap flew by. I talked with a few other people who were running the race. Everyone I ran with was entertaining and seemed in good spirits. We all knew we had a long night ahead, so we may as well enjoy some company early on. I was in excellent company at this event and found it really humbling. Brad, who was in first at the time, had completed an Ultraman even in Wales just a couple weeks prior. I also ran a few miles with Mark, who won the race last year.

I ran the first lap in about 2:25, which is slightly faster than I ran any of my laps the previous year. I felt incredibly calm, relaxed and happy throughout this section, with the exception of my knee getting increasingly more sore.
already favoring my favorite leg, but still in a great mood.
At this point I still hadn't mentioned my hurting leg to my crew. After a week of being nervous about the pain going away, I figured it wasn't a great time to bring it up. Seeing my crew and aid stations gives a bit of a high because it breaks up the monotony a little.

After finishing the first lap, I started to feel the effects of my altered gait. Muscles were sore that had never been sore before. Rather than simply bending my knee to clear logs and rocks in the trail, I abducted my leg and swung it over the obstacles straight. This caused issues with my back, other hip, and quads because I was running with this slight nuance. Shit. I was feeling like mile 60 at mile 17. Being unable to bend my knee greatly inhibited me on downhill sections of the course.

I ran a couple miles with Mark, last years winner, after he came up behind me. We talked a bit and I tried to hang on as we ran into the dark. I told him about my knee woes, but said I was thinking of toughing it out. Then a bee flew into my mouth and stung my tongue. "Ahh, fuck it." I ran some more with Mark, but had already resigned myself to my first DNF. He told me he was going to stretch out a bit on a flatter section and took off. I instantaneously came to a halt.

I was done. I walked to a gravel path on the course, but headed to a small lake with a clearing near the water. My shoes were touching the lake's edge as I looked out, taking in the view. It had been overcast for a couple hours, but there was a hole in the blanket of clouds that happened to line up with the sun. The water reflected the light as the cat tails swayed in the breeze. Some fish flipped up above the surface in the time I was watching. This made me realize that no matter how important I perceive these races to be, the world will carry on in the event that I fail. I'm every bit the person I was before I decided to pack it in. Running doesn't define who I am. Running allows me an outlet to show the world who I am, even if few listen. Not every attempt is successful.

I walked the rest of the way to the Richie's Haven aid station. The mosquitoes were drawing my precious Colorado altitude blood. with about a mile left to go, I was passed by the guy who would eventually go on to win the race. Jon Hastings put together a solid performance and finished the race in just over 19hrs.

I walked up to Jason and Jeremiah, and they seemed confused as to what to do. They knew I wouldn't be walking if it were serious, but still attempted to convince me to "get my bitch ass moving." I had too much time alone and I knew the knee wasn't a typical soreness or even an IT band flare-up. I can usually roll those out, as can be seen here at my last 12hr event:

As one might infer, I cannot decide whether to be the stoic running warrior or the childish jackass.
I'll make the decision someday.

Needless to say by now, I failed in my first attempt at 100 miles. Though I didn't complete the distance, I do consider a few things to be successful.
- I ran my own pace. I let Brad get away and was ok with it. He was looking fantastic and I knew I had to listen to my own body and run at a pace that was comfortable. In the same token, I didn't freak out when I dropped a couple others. Just being young doesn't make me a newbie. I have some experience behind me now and ran a bit more confidently than usual.

- I kept hydrated and fueled. Usually during ultras, I neglect food and water in the first couple hours because I'm letting adrenaline pull me along. I kept the GU and water coming early and often. I could feel that I was pretty close to optimally fueling.

- At a really easy pace, I on par to meet time goals. I was heading for a 16hour-ish 100miler. Believe me, I'm well aware that its a long day and I did plan on slowing down, but I will take this sample as a good sign. Downhills are usually a relative strength, so my pace without my "A game" on the downhills was encouraging.

- I knew when to quit. This race was going well, but it doesn't take a genius to realize that one detail(like a faulty knee joint) can take a person out. The writing was on the wall that my knee was getting sore in a linear fashion. The pain never subsided the entire time I was on the course, and got progressively more debilitating. Whether I DNF'ed at mile 24 or mile 60, I wasn't going to make it.

...I can talk quite a line of bullshit from the sidelines, can't I?

Everyone on the course was excellent and inspiring. Roughly 30% of the field finished, so those folks deserve a special appreciation. The mud became the main obstacle of the day, reaching knee depth on parts of the course. I dropped out before it got dark, so I was never even on the course when it got bad.

I spent the rest of the day watching the spectacle that is Run Woodstock. My two close friends, Mark Robillard and Shelly Robillard, finished their first 50milers each did a hell of a job in the challenging conditions. I crewed and paced for Shelly since I suddenly found my dance card to be wide open.

The race for the 50mile overall spot was incredible. My course record didn't even make it a year. Peter Hogg ran sub7, beating my time by 6 minutes despite the course being a muddy shit show. Josh Wopata, Ben Vanhoose, and John Clinthorne gave chase and ran amazingly well. I can say with a degree of confidence that the competiton is stronger in the mid west than in the mountains. My age group is stacked with badasses. The only advantage I have is being the relative baby of the bunch.

I'm not sure where to go from here. Perhaps a couple days of self pity and existential meltdown. Appointment with the sports med doc next week, then I get to determine just how early I'll take another crack at a 100. Maybe a fall Marathon(Philly sounds fun), or just some mountain biking and cross training.

Either way, fall is here and its an excellent time to be outside.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Great race report! I wanted to ask what happened and if you were OK but I figured you were probably really sick of that question by the time I saw you. You know that grindstone 100 looks like a pretty cool race, just sayin ...

  2. Wow. A bee flew in your mouth and stung your tongue? Shit. If that isn't the perfect storm then I don't know what is!!! Sorry about your knee. That blows. Glad you still have your sense of humor. No race is worth losing that! :-)

  3. Thanks for sharing Jesse. It is so great when ultras like you share their heartaches and disappointments too...it makes all of us "REALLY little" people feel like there is hope for another day when we have bad runs.Bad races or runs can be so discouraging,no matter what level a person is on.You are young and will heal quickly!!!Just BE CAREFUL~don't overdo!! Glad to know you guys are human too ;) I am sure your next attempt will be terrific!

  4. BTW-the bee sting thing was BIZARRE!!

  5. Never look back! Phillie is a great course and you should do it if your knee permits. I'm not running it this year, but will keep an eye out from our running club's aid station (mile 19) if you do.

  6. Still my running hero! And you better be coming to do the Philly Marathon (unless the knee is serious...boo).

  7. Sorry to hear about your knee. Rest hard and heal fast. Interesting observation about our age group, there aren't a lot of folks in it, but the ones who are, are serious.