You know what? Forrest Gump was right when he said “Life is like a box of chocolates…You never know what you’re gonna get.” At least he was right when it applies to running, and since he was a runner it’s all the more appropriate. Some days, you set out for a run expecting great things and are sorely disappointed. Others, you expect nothing and are shocked by what you get. It’s happened to me before. At the Colorado Marathon in 2008, I KNEW that I was going to qualify for
I really don’t remember the moment in time when running 100 miles went from something I swore I’d never do to something I decided I definitely wanted to do. A big factor might have been the Lean Horse race back in 2008, a race I didn’t even run. My plan for that year had been to qualify for
Flash forward to 2009. After running
I don’t really want to go into the gory details of my training plan, but I feel like I should mention some of the key pieces. Ultra training is MUCH less set in stone than marathon training. You can’t go to a bookstore and buy a book with an ultra plan laid out for you day by day. Much of how to train for these things is an experiment with yourself based on advice from others who have done it. Of course, as with anything, different people have different opinions on what works best, so you’ve got to figure out what works best for you. So, I feel somewhat obligated to share at least some of the key principles of my training for others who are looking for ideas. The basic structure of my training was to have two high mileage weeks followed by a moderate mileage week and then an easy cutback week and repeat that 4 week cycle throughout. The amount of mileage during the week didn’t really change all that much from week to week; the big difference came with the weekend mileage. For me, a “high” mileage week was around 70-75 miles, moderate was around 65 and easy was around 55-60. I know that may not seem like much, but on those high mileage weeks, the bulk of those miles came on the weekend. I used a mix of back to back and single long runs, sometimes running something like 25/15 and other weekends running 30/10 or 40/0….the goal was to get around 40 miles for the weekend. Some weekends were shorter mileage-wise, but because of tough terrain I was still spending a lot of time on my feet. I ended up with one 40 mile long run, three 30 milers, the 34 mile Bighorn DNF, and four marathons (two were actual marathons and the other two were just 26.2 mile runs on my own). I had several other 35-40 mile weekends with the mileage split between two runs. I topped out at 80 miles the last week before taper and then knocked the mileage back about 25% each week, running only 14 miles the last week, with two full days of rest before the race. I started out doing speedwork once per week in the spring, but when summer rolled around and the local trail series got going, I began using those shorter races as occasional speedwork and didn’t do any specific speed workouts for the last few months before Lean Horse.
Really, the summer flew by and before I knew it I was taking my son and daughter to their first days of school, my son was starting his first season of youth football (Go Rams!) and Lean Horse was upon me. I made the two hour drive down to
Before too long, it was time for the pre-race briefing to start, so we filed into the auditorium. At some point during the briefing the race director, Jerry (another friend of mine), brought up the Black Hills 100, a new ultra event that he, Ryan and I are developing. Jerry brought Ryan and I up on stage to talk about the event and during our introductions said something along the lines of “Chris and Ryan are training partners. Ryan is a fast guy and we expect big things out of him in the ultrarunning world in the future. Chris is slower, but they train together…..uh….I guess I’ll let him tell you about himself” (side note: Jerry tends to start talking before the thought is entirely complete in his head). It’s true though, because Ryan is fast….really fast. Our training runs either involved him running really slowly to stay with me, or him charging ahead to the next ridgetop or trailhead and then waiting for my slow butt to catch up. Regardless, we started talking about the Black Hills 100 and next thing you know, the briefing for Lean Horse becomes a question and answer session for
After the briefing, I caught some downtime at the hotel before heading back to the civic center for the pre-race cookout. After that, I headed into town to watch some high school football, the Hot Springs Bison versus the Winner Warriors (Winner being an appropriate name for the town since they won the state championship last year) and then back to the hotel to try and sleep. Amazingly, I drifted off fairly early, 9:00 or so, and probably slept better than I ever have the night before a big race. I was up at 3:45 Saturday morning and that’s when the nerves really hit: “Holy !@#$, I’m going to run 100 miles!” After a quick, simple breakfast (Frosted Flakes and an English muffin, the breakfast of champions), I headed back over to the civic center to check in and nervously stand around. Once there, I huddled up with all the familiar faces in the room, as if there were safety in numbers from the dangers that lay outside. Just before 6:00, Jerry booted us outside and with a ten count and “GO!”, we were off.
Originally, I was going to break this report down into sections from aid station to aid station, but there were just too damn many (9 aid stations that you go through twice each for 18 total) and I really don’t remember many details (or anything noteworthy) between all of them, so instead it’s broken down from drop bag location to drop bag location.
Start to Argyle
The first three miles follow city streets and a bike path through
I started out slow. Really slow. Well, it felt really slow, but I didn’t really know for sure because I was running without my Garmin. I knew that the battery on it wouldn’t last for the entire race, so I had put it in my
From Argyle Loop, the course takes to the Mickelson Trail, a rails to trails path that features long, gentle grades. There are no lung searing uphills, but when you do go uphill, you do so for a long time. Of course, you also go downhill for a long time (although it always seems longer going up). The entire thing is really very runable, but I knew that I wasn’t going to run the whole thing. Because of the long hills, I also didn’t want to walk the uphills for miles at a time. So, the plan was to use a run/walk ratio of 10 minutes to 2 minutes. That plan actually didn’t last long. I was having some trouble finding a groove and decided to break it up more, so started going 5 minutes to 2 minutes and that seemed to work better.
I topped off my handheld again at the Lime Kiln aid station at mile 20 and grabbed some more food (I don’t remember exactly what). My fueling plan was to consume Hammer Gels and Clif Bars between aid stations and then grab some more substantial food from the stations. As it turns out, I quickly discovered that chewing Clif Bars takes a lot of time and effort, especially when you’re not producing much saliva, so I relied more on Hammer Gels, which I was surprisingly able to tolerate for a majority of the race (usually my body rejects them after 3 or 4). I arrived in Pringle at mile 24 feeling pretty good. Again, I had no need for my drop bag. I did grab a turkey and cheese sandwich and maybe a banana….it’s all a blur already. As I left, someone warned me that the next section was long and warm. They were right.
Pringle (24) to
The section just past Pringle sucks. It’s long and straight and the trail is right next to the highway. I remembered running this stretch to the 50 mile turnaround last year and it being really hot. It wasn’t as warm this year, but it still seemed to take forever and I was starting to not feel so good. My stomach wasn’t happy about something and I could feel the sensation of nausea building, bringing back some unhappy memories from Bighorn. The run/walk went out the window and it was just a walk for a little while. I had read that ginger helped and had packed some ginger chews in my hydration pack. I took one of those and, lo and behold, it worked. My stomach calmed down and I was able to start running again. Right about this time, a lady who was running the 50K (which ended at the Carroll Creek aid station) pulled up alongside me and we started talking and running/walking together. Running with her helped immensely as it took my mind off the crapiness I was feeling and made the time go by a little faster. She took off ahead to finish her race just before Carroll Creek at mile 30. At the aid station, I topped off with water and Nuun and grabbed some more peanut butter and jelly for the road. It was quite a chore to choke down half a sandwich, but I forced myself to do it as I walked down the trail. After Carroll Creek, I started back in on my run/walk strategy and got into a nice groove. Little did I know then that this groove would last for most of the next 70 miles. The 5.5 miles to
I knew at some point along this stretch I would see the frontrunners as they came back from the turnaround. The first guy was WAY out in front of everyone else and he was a first timer (all first timers had a green sticker on their bibs to signify their greenhorn status). I stopped for a quick fluid refill and maybe tried another turkey sandwich at the Oreville aid station (mile 45.2). Not long past Oreville, I was surprised to see Mike running along in 5th place overall. I gave him a high five as we passed each other. At this point, I began wondering where in the hell Ryan was as I had expected him to be one of the front runners. About halfway between Oreville and Buckaroo I finally found him and we exchanged some quick words of support. I stopped very briefly at Buckaroo on the way out to top off my bottle and then headed out for the short 1.6 mile stretch to the turnaround and back. At the turnaround, I pulled my cell phone out of my pack and called my wife to let her know I was still alive and halfway done. I hit the turnaround in 9:40, two hours and twenty minutes ahead of 24 hour pace. Once back at Buckaroo, I made my longest stop of the day to refill the hydration pack and change shoes. I also grabbed my headlamp from my bag. I had put it in this bag expecting to be here much closer to dark. It’s nice to be wrong about some things.
Buckaroo (50.8) to
Of course, that nice long downhill from Crazy Horse to Buckaroo became a seemingly MUCH longer uphill on the way back. But, still, I was able to stick with my run/walk strategy and was constantly banking time. At this point, I was really surprised by just how well this thing was going, but at the same time I was trying not to get too excited about it because, after all, I still had half the race to go. Back at the Oreville aid station, I decided that chewing food was just too much damn work….I couldn’t work up enough saliva to do it properly, although I was maintaining my hydration fairly well and taking a leak at least every couple of hours. So, I decided to try some Coke and chicken soup and it was the awesomest thing EVER. Like nectar of the Gods. I tried some more at Mountain, after finally cresting the neverending hill, and it was still awesome. So I tried some again at
After leaving Harbach, I called my wife again to update her on my progress. I was now 2 hours and 45 minutes ahead of 24 hour pace. I told her I wasn’t sure if I could keep this up for another 35 miles, but so far so good. Not long after I hung up the phone and stashed it back in my pack, I noticed I was catching up to someone who didn’t look to be feeling very good. As I got closer, I realized that it was Ryan. I pulled up alongside him and he gave me a casual “good job” then did a double take when he realized it was me. I asked him how he was feeling and the look on his face said it all. He’d been cramping and was just feeling generally crappy. We exchanged words of encouragement and I ran on. It was this point that I really started to realize how good of a day I was having. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would ever finish ahead of Ryan in a race. Of course, there was still a lot of race left, but the fact that I felt so strong this far into it gave me a huge confidence boost.
Back at Carroll Creek they were cooking up grilled cheese sandwiches. I had a quarter of one with some more Coke and chicken soup. That was pretty awesome too. I headed out of that aid station feeling great and was treated with one hell of a lightning show off to the east as I ran toward Pringle. The storm was never really close to me...the thunder was pretty distant, but I did get sprinkled on a few times. By this point, it was pretty much dark out, but I still had my headlamp stashed in my hydration pack. I was hoping to not use it at all and run only by moonlight, but the thunderstorms were kind of screwing with that plan. I hit probably the toughest stretch for me mentally between Carroll Creek and Pringle. Back on that long straight stretch along the highway, I was struggling. Physically, I was fine, but the headlight heading towards me were pissing me off, the fact that it was warmer than expected and there was no breeze was pissing me off and the fact that the trail was straight and seemed to go on forever was REALLY pissing me off. I KNOW that it wasn’t that long on the way out and if I ever find the bastard that lengthened it, I’m gonna kick his ass. Despite my attitude, I still ran/walked fairly strongly and finally arrived at Pringle. On a small side note, I should mention that even when I was walking, I was usually gaining time on the 24 hour pace. I made sure not to just walk too casually, but to walk with a purpose and my Garmin was telling me that my walking pace was generally around 13:30-14:00 per mile (24 hour pace is 14:24), a little slower on uphills. But I never got so tired that my walking pace slowed to a crawl; I was able to walk strongly the whole way, which played a big part in my overall finish.
Pringle (76) to Argyle
I had made the decision long before to ditch my hydration pack at Pringle. I figured that having all that extra water wasn’t really necessary at night and I had another handheld stashed in my Pringle drop bag. So, I transferred all the stuff I REALLY needed (Nuun tabs, cell phone, headlamp) from the hydration pack to my pockets (or head, in the case of the headlamp). The aid station didn’t have any chicken soup, so I went with tomato instead and headed out. It was just after Pringle on the way out that I had hit my first rough patch and it would be just after Pringle and way back that I would hit my second. I don’t know if it was the tomato soup or what, but not long after finishing it, I started to feel kind of queasy again. Of course, the logical solution would be a ginger chew since that worked so well before. Only problem was that they were still in my hydration pack and I sure as hell wasn’t backtracking for them. So, instead I just walked for a bit and hoped my stomach would settle down. Eventually, thankfully, it did and I was able to start the run/walk routine again. By this time, it was no long 5 minutes to 2 minutes. It was much more random. I would start running and go until it started to feel uncomfortable and then I would walk. Eventually, my feet and legs would start to ache while walking, so I would start running again and they would feel better. And the cycle would repeat itself. Back through Lime Kiln I got more Coke and, thankfully, they had chicken soup. I pressed on to Argyle Loop and the Mickelson running was done for the day. More Coke and more chicken soup and then it was back onto the rolling hills of
My strategy for the return trip on Argyle was the same as before: run the downhills and walk the uphills. I could tell immediately that this section might be uncomfortable. I had developed some blisters on the balls of my feet, especially my left foot. The Mickelson is finely crushed gravel and nice and smooth. Argyle, however, is a gravel road with much larger pieces of gravel that did NOT feel good at all if I stepped on one wrong. Upon leaving Argyle Loop, I was about 3 hours ahead of 24 hour pace and still moving strongly. So now, the question became just how quickly I was going to be able to finish this thing. I decided at this point that it was safe to assume sub-24 was in the bag, but could I finish sub-21? That became my new goal.
The storms had rolled through and the nearly full moon finally made an appearance, so I ran much of this final section with my headlamp off. I was able to see perfectly well enough without it and was enjoying the calm night, under the stars and moon. Although the finish was getting close, I tried really hard not to think about it and just focus on getting to the next aid station, as I had been all day. I refueled with more Coke and chicken soup at Morph and headed out for the last aid station. Just before the 95 mile point, there is a long downhill. I was able to run almost all of it and when I got to the bottom was done with
I dropped my bottles on the grass, asked the lady if I could stop now and planted my butt in a chair. It was the awesomest feeling in the world to finally sit down and know that I didn’t have to get back up until I damn well felt like it.
I guess the best way to describe how I felt when I got done is “content”. I was somewhat shocked by what had just occurred. Another guy I talked to the next day, who had also finished his first 100, described it as the best executed race tactically he’s ever run. I think that applies to my race too. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried. Eventually, I asked to take a peek at the results and discovered that I had finished 7th overall. Mike had come in exactly one hour before me in 19:21, a spectacular 100 mile debut for him also. The winner, another first timer, had run a blistering 15:25, just 5 minutes slower than the course record.
Ryan’s wife and sister in law were at the finish and told me he was on
And that’s about it. I went to the awards ceremony later that morning to get my buckle and award for 3rd in my age group and then drove home. Today, the day after, it already seems like so long ago. My legs are tired, but have been more sore after some marathons I’ve run. My feet are another story. They have been abused and are not happy about it, especially the left one, which had the bigger blister and also was swollen pretty good yesterday. But, hey, it was worth it.
Wow, 9 pages….if you’ve made it this far, maybe you deserve a belt buckle. What can I say, a long race necessitates a long report. And I’ve got nothing to do today but sit and type. Thanks for reading and all the words of support and congratulations I’ve received; it’s been great!