I’ve run one event or another at Pickled Feet for the last 3 years. First, I attempted the 24 hour event and stopped at 25 or so miles and 6 hours in. I foolishly signed up after having raced a 50 miler the weekend prior and just wasn’t feeling it. Last year, I ran the 12 hour night event in order to get some strong night training in. This year, I chose to go after the 100 mile finish with hopes that I could break 20 hours and really capitalize on some reasonable early season fitness after some decent training and long efforts throughout the harsh winter. I started off preparing for the race like I would any other, by working backward from race day and just trying to hit specific weekly mileage goals, but about 5 weeks ago, I began working with a running coach – Jeremy Humphrey. I’ve known Jeremy for the entire time I’ve been running ultras, but really only in passing at different events. He drove down from McCall to help me out at this race and it was awesome. He knows his shit, and I’m really looking forward to learning more from him.
I had an excellent race. Like, probably better than I deserved. However, it was not without its challenges. I had to travel for work for the entire week leading up to the race and I was convinced that I was fighting getting sick. I wasn’t very confident that if my immune system was already working hard that I would make it through all of the different airports without getting nasty sick. Somehow, I managed to stay healthy. Could have used some more sleep though. I also knew going in that the weather was going to be a huge factor. Until 2 weeks ago, temps in Michigan never got above the mid 20’s with many days where the wind chill could drop temps to -20. I tried to prep by overdressing on many of my runs and workouts, primarily those in 2 weeks prior to the race. The plan was to survive the day and go hunting at night. Jeremy had thought that I could be in a position to compete at the front of the race, but I tried not to think about that and instead focus on my time goal of sub 20 hours. Plus, I had not really developed the confidence that I could run at the front of a race and hold it together. I hate the idea of a DNF so much that I hold myself back and minimize the chances that I will crack and have to quit.
The start of the race was really mellow. I know that a few runners jumped out to a quick start, but I focused on a slow and controlled start. I’ve been working with a heart rate monitor, but I only managed to keep it on for the first few hours. My effort was super minimal but the monitor believed otherwise. After working to adjust it and get accurate readings failed, I ditched it and really ran by feel – rarely looking at my watch. I’m glad that I did. It was difficult to watch a handful of runners moving so much quicker than me. But after looking back at my lap splits I wasn’t exactly running slow. My first 5 laps were all 23 minutes and change – very consistent. The effort was really low, but I concentrated on decreasing the pace slowly over the next few laps until I was getting 2.5 miles in in 30-34 minutes. As the temps started to race, I began stopping at the aid to get ice in my pack and try and get cooled off with ice water over my head. That turned out to be critical to my survival of the day. I focused on minimizing my time in the aid – with 2.5 miles between stops, there would be far too many opportunities for wasted time. At some point, I began to notice many runners slowing down, probably from the accumulated toll from the heat of the day. I then started to stop halfway through each loop and cool off in the river. Invigorating. I certainly wasn’t impervious to struggles either. My hip flexors and hamstrings were starting to cramp a lot. I stopped to stretch frequently to try and keep the issues at bay, but they would be problematic until basically mile 90. More on that later.
This race had multiple firsts for me. For starters, I puked for the first time in a race, and I puked bad. I’m going to guess that it was somewhere between loops 20 and 22. I had just had a cup of vegetable and beef soup and was trying to take in a salt pill when I just lost it. I found myself on all fours for 5 or so minutes expelling all sorts of foulness from my stomach. It took me some time to feel settled again. I remember retching so hard that my stomach muscles felt torn. Sitting here now 3 days post-race, I still have soreness in my abs. I do think that it happened at the perfect time though. Night had fallen, the temps had dropped, and I felt like I had a new lease on life. Once I got moving again, it was hunting time. Another first was a shift in my race mentality. Generally, I think of myself as a friendly runner. I like to chat with others and I don’t usually just fly past people on the trails. At this point, something was different. I knew that I was feeling pretty good for being this far into the race and I assumed that I let several others build a sizeable lead on me. I decided that I was going to pass the other runners with purpose in hopes of not only building my confidence, but compromising theirs. Even now, I don’t know if I like this tactic.
As the miles clicked away, I focused on trying to stay consistent and keep moving forward. I tried to appear as strong as possible even when I was feeling like I was starting to fall apart. I needed this to keep going strong. There were too many spots where I could have broken. Fortunately, Jeremy kept me focused on maintaining my form and giving me positive reinforcement. I do know that at mile 90, something changed. I no longer felt tired or scared that I wouldn’t make it. The pain in my legs felt insignificant. My legs stopped cramping and I became intensely focused on the fact that I was going to finish strong and I was going to finish in first place – my first outright win ever. I ran hard and gave all I had in those remaining 10 miles. Especially the last 5. In fact, my final lap was my fastest of the entire day. I crossed the finish line in 20 hours and 40 minutes – and promptly collapsed on the ground.
I can’t find the words to express my appreciation for those who helped support me in this endeavor. To my sister Mara (and her “tribe”), and my Mom and Dad who came out to sit in a park to watch me run past while only speaking maybe 20 words thank you so much for taking the time to be there. To my second set of parents Linda and Scott, thank you for giving me a safe and comfortable place to rest prior to the race and recover afterward. To the entire Pickled Feet Crew, thank you for once again putting on a stellar event. You know how to do things right. To my coach and new friend Jeremy, thanks for kicking my ass and helping me figure out how to do this thing the right way. And finally, the biggest thank you to my wife Christy for putting up with my grumpy attitudes, constant griping, and excessive money spent on this crazy thing I have gotten myself into – and still loving me through it all.
If you have made it to the end of this report, here is some data that I thought was cool. It’s pretty easy to see where the sub 20 got away from me. Maybe next time!
Miles 1-10 – ~1:35
Miles 11-20 - ~1:44
Miles 21-30 - ~2:06
Miles 31-40 - ~2:09
Miles 41-50 - ~2:08
Miles 51-60 - ~2:20
Miles 61-70 - ~2:07
Miles 71-80 - ~2:06
Miles 81-90 - ~2:21
Miles 91-100 - ~2:04