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2012 Cactus Rose 100 – Race Report

November 7, 2012

Official race results

It’s been 10 days since my finish at the Cactus Rose 100.  For those reading this 100 years from now, a bit of perspective: last night the 44th President of the United States of America, Barrack Hussein Obama, was elected to a second term, marijuana became legal in Colorado, and a few more states acknowledged that any two consenting adults have the right to be married, regardless of religious traditions surrounding anatomical compatibility.

Over the course of October 27-28, I was, indeed, able to cover 100 miles on foot, without stopping for a meal and no stationary sleeping (though I think I cobbled together about 45 seconds of moving sleep over the final 5 or 6 hours of the event).  The main thought I have about the experience, the idea that repeatedly came to mind both during and after the run, was this: participating in a 100-mile foot race is totally self-indulgent, likely dangerous, does not contribute to good health, and is largely pointless.  Such a race is expensive and exacts a toll on loved ones and, since about half of those who attempt the feat aren’t able to finish, can be as much a blow to the psyche as it is destructive to the body.  People usually fall and are cut, bruised, and aching everywhere whether or not they finish.  Torn muscles, blisters, sprained joints, and all manner of maladies arise from dehydration, sleep deprivation, and the ravages of the elements and terrain.  Puking, crying, and general disorientation are commonplace.

I finished, hobbling and spent, well off my goal time, and moaned in bed as I slept for the next 19 hours.  When I woke up, I wanted to do it all again.  Weird, right?  It all comes down to the satisfaction of doing it outweighed and overshadowed everything else.  It is supremely satisfying to lay out an objective goal, prepare for it for months or years, not knowing whether it is really even achievable, then have the opportunity to so fully test oneself.  Had I DNF’ed, at least I’d have known what I was made of.  It all probably sounds trite and cliché.  Still, in adulthood with work and family and a house to maintain and all that goes with the largely suburban, workaday lifestyle, we just adjust to the reality of doing small things.  Not to say that pizza with friends or taking kids to the park or paying the bills is unimportant.  But the things we routinely do, even the really fun stuff, isn’t really all that satisfying.  At least that’s what I believe the 80 runners starting the 100-mile race seemed to understand.

I went into the race with 2 main goals: (1) Finish without risking any permanent damage, and (2) do so in under 24 hours.  Both were reasonable goals based on my training and preparation and I figured if I could cover the distance without any injury or illness I’d be able to do so in less than 24 hours.  I was right and I was wrong.  Having never gone longer than 52 miles or so, and only having covered than sort of distance a couple of times, every step beyond had all sorts of uncertainty.  To improve my odds, I’d been running fairly high mileage, at altitude, almost entirely on trail, including many long runs (5+ hours), for months leading up to the race.  Andres Capra, my longtime friend, training partner, and multi-race teammate, was also out there for his first shot at a 100.  Between us we had quite a crew/pacer team, including my buddies Steve Levine from Chicago, Matt Wiencek from Boulder, our mutual ultra-running friend, Rob Clark, and Andres’ co-worker runner-athletes, Chris Kelter and Rob Nunez.  Pacers were allowed after 50 miles and Andres and I needed them every step.

I don’t think any potential race report readers have the endurance for a mile-by-mile sort of account of the day(s) on the trail so I’ll attempt to sumarize.  The course deserves a word before going into my experience.  That word could be sack-slapping.  Or 100milesoflooserock.  Or leg-grinding.  The four 25 mile loops, which change directions after each go-around, lack the altitude and long climbs of the mountains but make up for such challenges with about 40 miles of short, steep, ups and downs that are essentially scree for many stretches.  Having run the entire back half of the Leadville 100 just a few months ago, I feel qualified to say that, altitude aside, the CR100 course is at least as challenging.  The terrain is certainly as tough or tougher.

Here’re the basics of my day…

Pre-race, with Andres.  All optimism.

Loop 1 – Start to Mile 25

Within the first 10 minutes of the race Andres and I inexplicably found ourselves off-course with a handful of other runners.  Not sure how it happened but luckily it was only about a 5-minute detour and the only of the entire race.  We ran together, nice and easy, the entire loop coming through 25 miles right on schedule in about 5 hours.

Loop 2 – Mile 25-50

Coming into halfway…

Andres and I leapfrogged each other a bit but were mostly together all loop and we came through the halfway point in about 11 hours in good spirits, still chatting (probably about how awesome we are and how we’re so going to crush the race).  I had some distressingly early leg pains as early as about mile 30 that never really went away but nothing that was keeping me from running.  Not yet, at least.

Somewhere with Andres, I’m smiling so it must have been the first half…

Loop 3 – Mile 50-75

Many hours into the day, somewhere loop 3, I think.

I picked up Steve to pace me at about 4pm.  It was a mental lift to have a friend along.  And it was a huge logistical help, as I could now further minimize my aid station pit-stop times since Steve could grab what I needed and I could get on my way immediately.  It is somewhat arbitrary, even misleading, to break the race into 25 mile segments.  With aid stations every 4.5-5.5 miles, most runners, myself included, are mentally just working to get to the next aid station.  After running for 11 hours, this was especially true.  The highs and lows came often.  I’d feel overwhelmed by the idea of running another 45 or 30 or eventually even 10 miles, while still having stretches where I felt really good.  These swings, though not too high or low, came at me every few miles the entire third loop.

Steve is a minor legend within my group of college friends.  He’s game, kind of freakishly so.  That’s the best way of describing him.  He can run a respectable marathon with minimal training, hammer back martinis and steaks like an alcoholic strong-side tackle, and dance for days at a time, sometimes all within the course of one long weekend.  He’s as likely to be backpacking solo through remote sections of Hawaii as hand-picking fine fabrics for a custom suit he’ll be wearing to a wedding in London.  He runs his own business mostly from his phone and is always looking for a challenge –or dare.  He was just what I needed to keep me entertained and moving.  Steve is also a big dude – more lineman than ultrarunner – but I’ve run and hiked and skied and otherwise suffered with him many times.

This is Steve.

But, as the miles wore on I found that his relative inexperience on trails, for long distances, and especially in the dark, made it tough to manage the pacing duties.  By mile 67 I looked back and could no longer see any sign of his headlamp.  A runner doesn’t stop for his pacer, it’s just the way it goes.  Maybe (probably) it makes me a dick but I think knowing that I could drop my pacer, WAS dropping my pacer, made me speed up.  I came into mile 70 aid station alone.  Luckily Chris Kelter was there, semi-fresh (though he’d been crewing pacing ALL day long), and he kept me company until mile 75.

Loop 4 – Mile 75 to Finish

And that’s when things fell apart.  Matt was patiently waiting for me around 10pm.  Though a sub-24 was still mathematically within reach, I understood that a 6-hour final loop was looking unlikely.  My legs were trashed.  I was able to run pretty much all of the flats, downhills, and even some of the gentler climbs for 75 miles.  But every step was hurting.  Not the expected knee pains, somehow all of my joints felt ok.  I had one blister developing on my left heel but that wasn’t much more than a minor distraction.  The muscles in my legs, however, hurt down to the individual fibers.  I wasn’t overly fatigued, my mood was acceptable (to me, at least), my stomach remained solid and I was able to keep taking in calories. I just couldn’t run, or more accurately, I couldn’t run any faster than I could hike.

Matt, a very experienced marathoner-recently-turned-trail-ultra-guy, was solid.  He is one of the most even-tempered friends I’ve ever had and that’s just what I needed as I suffered, creeping along, for 10 hours on that final loop.  When I felt good (I did have some decent short stretches) I ran.  The rest I hiked as efficiently as possible.  Matt pointed out at one point that his own pace was hardly changing and never more than a hike, even when I was running my hardest.  That was helpful to know.  Though somewhat discouraging, it made more sense to hike than run if I was essentially going the same speed.  We both fell asleep repeatedly while running; Matt once awoke to the bright reflection from his headlamp light on a course marker, thinking a car was coming towards him.  I did a lot of grunting the last few hours.

This must have been sometime after 7am (of the second day)…

Despite my inability to run for most of the last 10 hours, I somehow managed not to get passed until, with less than a mile to go, a guy flew by me (probably at 10 min/mile pace).  I tried to stay with him and was able to, for about 10 seconds.  Then I just stumbled my way in to finish in 27 hours, 44 minutes, 48 seconds, 18th place overall of the 47 runners who were able to finish (33 DNf’ed).

Crossing the finish line…

Immediately after the race, with Matt.  We look pretty good…

I never contemplated not finishing, though I wanted to stop more than I’ve wanted just about anything in my whole life.  I thought of my friends across the country, my family, especially Sagan, and everyone else who knew I was out there.  My ultrarunning-star friend, Olga, was out there supporting runners at an aid station we passed through 8 time over the course of the race.  She’s a hard woman to let down.  And I thought of Andres, who I admire and respect and sometimes hate a little for always being the better runner.  I was able to pull away a little bit around mile 60 and hadn’t seen him since.  I was certain he was just steps behind me, likely to speed past me soon, or surely in the final stretch to the finish.  I wanted him to finish, to have a good experience.  But I absolutely could not DNF and still hold my head high if he finished.  Of course, he finished and he likely would have been ahead of me if not for some lengthy aid station stops.  But, for once, I finished ahead of him.  I’ll bask in that achievement even if it makes me a dick, as I can’t quite imagine it ever happening again.  And I’m super proud of him for gutting it out in a still very-respectable time.  Even if it was slower than mine.  🙂

———————————————————————–

Some FAQs, as I’ve had a lot of people ask the same stuff.

How close was I to the winner?  Why didn’t I win?

This is one I get a lot, including from Sagan, who doesn’t understand why I don’t win the races.  I understand why people ask it.  I’m fairly fit looking and I train all the time, at least compared to people who train less.  What well-meaning, very supportive friends and family don’t realize is that I’m super average as a runner.  I’ve never won an award or any kind, in over 50 races.  In ultras, the frontrunners are HOURS ahead of me.  In fact, in the CR100 I crossed paths with the eventual winner when I was at mile 43.  He was 14 MILES ahead of me at that point and he finished over 10 hours before me.  And he would be an hour or two behind some of the guys who I’ve met in Boulder if they came to the race.  I’ll never run a 13-hour 100 or a 2:15 marathon or 4-minute mile.  Not even close, with all possible coaching and training and doping and course cutting and machete throwing at runners ahead of me.  That said, I’m ok with my running and typically in the top quarter of runners in races, sometimes in the top 5-10%, and I continue to improve as I race and train more.

What’s my excuse for not running faster?

I have none.  The weather was nearly perfect, high in the 60s, lows in the upper 30s, and dry.  I never fell.  I didn’t get sick or injured.  I trained as much as I reasonably could, and on race-specific terrain.  I tapered well, came in rested, fit, lean, and in good spirits.  I had great pacers and crew and a sound nutrition plan that I stuck with.  The course was well-marked, the aid stations close together, and I didn’t have any trouble with gear.  I’m not sure what, if anything, I could or should have done differently, which is both comforting and discouraging since I don’t know how I can go faster next time.

What did I eat?

50-60 gels, one every 20 minutes for more than 12 hours then as often as I could stomach, all Powerbar brand, mostly un-caffeinated vanilla with some caffeinated strawberry-banana after halfway.

~100 ounces of plain coconut milk with whey powder, chugged at aid stations.  Maybe 30 ounces of “green” Odwalla juice

1 Bobobar, a few peanut butter sandwhich halves, 1 large bag of potato chips, small cup of mashed sweet potatoes, 1 cup weak coffee

How much did I stop/rest?

Essentially, not at all.  I think my longest aid station stop was under 5 minutes.  I never sat down (though I did squat once at mile 39), never intentionally slept.  I maintained a running motion, if not pace, for probably about 80 miles of the race.

How long did it take to recover?

I’m still not sure.  I fully took off 3 days after the race and have since run easy 3 times, hiked twice, and done some strength work in the last week.  I feel a bit sluggish but no major lingering pains.  My first real run test, a 9.5 mile trail run this past Sunday (7 days post-race) was a mixed bag.  Mentally I felt good, physically I felt great through about 4 miles, then I started aching until the finish.  I think I’ll be close to 100% in another week.

Is this out of my system, finally?

Nope.  I’m not super excited to run the CR100 course again but long distance trail running isn’t something on my bucket list, something to check off.  While the experience of the race itself may not be done for health, the training and nutrition and dedication are good for me, year-round.  It can fill my need for social time and solo time, it gets me outside to beautiful, remarkable places, it provides goals and direction for me, and an example of discipline and the strength of will and demonstrates the benefits of fitness for my kids.   And if I can look ok in my underwear 20 years from now, all the better for me and Alison.

What’s next?

First, helping to get Story sleeping and Alison some much needed rest and time to herself.  Running-wise, I’ll just do whatever seems like fun for the rest of 2012, though probably no racing.  I need and want to get some cross-training over the winter to get stronger.  Probably a decent amount of skiing and snowshoeing, definitely regular strength training, perhaps mixing in some swimming and rowing.  Further out, I know that I want to race more long-distance.  A shot at the Leadville 100 or a return to the TransRockies Run (6 days racing across the Rockies) interest me a lot for next summer.  Pacing others in trail ultras interests me, as do long adventure runs with friends outside of a race setting.

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10 Comments
  1. participating in a 100-mile foot race is totally self-indulgent, likely dangerous, does not contribute to good health, and is largely pointless.

    Amen and congratulations on the finish … well done.

    I see you also adopted the ultrabeard.

  2. Rosie permalink

    FABULOUS report! Thank you for the detailed and humorous report. We are VERY PROUD of your achievement. (Mom & Dad)

  3. I am with George Zack.

  4. GZ – I thought the beard was required for ultra-tough, ultra-mysterious, ultra-ultra guys like me. Otherwise, how would anyone know?

    Mom, Dad, Olga, Thank you all for the kind words and congratulations And thanks to so many others who didn’t leave comments but emailed, called, and made me drink beer in person. I’m looking to get some more stamps in my ultrarunning passport (no, that doesn’t exist) in 2013. The support sure helps!

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 2013 Leadville 100: The Big One | Kind of Like Fun
  2. 2013 Leadville 100: The Big One | Rocky Mountain Runners

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