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Category: Trail Race

Supporting or Supported?

I was thinking about races, ultras of course, and I found out why they appeal to some.  While editing my last video, Rabid Raccoon I noticed I filmed a lot of aid stations.  I love capturing interactions with people.  Aid station workers are a different breed, they are in the “supporting” role all day.  Supporting, odds are, people they don’t know.  They will feed you, fill your bottles, and maybe even fix your feet.   All of this so you can complete YOUR race.  It’s comical we pay to do this, but I see why.  You spend a DAY being pampered and in the spotlight.  You are “supported” for an entire day.  It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of subpar food, I mean don’t get me wrong, aid station food is amazing, but it’s a quick and easy fare.  It was the attention I got that I noticed in the video.  Each aid station went all out as they put all effort into meeting your needs. 

Aid station workers are an amazing group of people

Are ultrarunners just seeking attention?  Am I just seeking attention?  If you are reading this, on a blog I own and post my random thoughts, the answer is yes.  Putting that topic aside, that has to be part of the draw to racing.  Racing puts the spotlight on you.  If you have kids, work a demanding job, or have lots of stress, it can be an escape to get the attention you so desperately seek.  Running by the cheering crowds you feel as though they’re all there for you.  You are the star, you get the attention and the fame, and MAYBE you go home with the medal! 

Sometimes there are too many choices at an aid station.

I used to race constantly, initially part of me chasing that spotlight.  I felt as though I had no talent and found something I was good at.  I raced a lot and won a lot and it was addictive.  Kids and a job came, priorities shifted, and I enjoyed being out there longer.  The more time with your thoughts.  The more time you suffer.  I enjoyed that and the solitude of running.  It’s bizarre, that it went from racing surrounded by crowds to racing alone in the woods with just your thoughts.  Running for myself has changed so much, I’ve changed, and that’s what this sport does.  Running doesn’t change, but you change along the ride.  You shift from being supported by crowds and fans, to being supported by a select few.  You have to think differently as time passes.  It’s ever-evolving much like life.  Ultras and life are messy, difficult, challenging experiences that demand you to change as the race goes on.  What worked in the beginning in the race of life, doesn’t work as well in the later stages.  The game changed just as you think you’ve figured it out.

Artificial Intelligence thinks you need pens at an aid station.

You shift as we age from being supported to supporting others.  I realized you can’t always take without giving back, you have to spend time supporting.  There’s a balance that must be maintained for sanity, friendships, and relationships to stay afloat.  Taking time to help others, as much as you have been helped.  As my running career enters its next stage I’m just happy to be out on the trails.  I never take for granted all those who helped me get to this point in life, my family, friends, and all those races.  I am just trying to figure out what the next chapter will look like.  Maybe it’s helping others find meaning through movement.  I feel this strain to give back.  How can I give back?  That’s what I have been asking myself.  I am slowly figuring it out and seeing what part to play in the running community.  It just takes a lot of time, and I’m OK with that.  I used to think change happened fast, but I was wrong.  It’s slow.  REALLY slow, if not years to get to where you need to be.  You just have to take that first step!  

Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed it let me know how running has changed for you over the years, or how it has stayed the same.  There’s no right or wrong answer. 

Rabid Raccoon 100 – You can’t train for this much mud

Rabid Raccoon is a relatively new 100 miler for PA.  This would be the first time I would take on a 100-miler this early in the season, and potentially deal with some cold temperatures.  That was the case last year when they had a low finish rate.  The weather this year was perfect, except for some rain late into the night, it was mostly sunny and warm.  This is a looped race on a course with a few streams running down the trails.  There were multiple variations of the race going on with 2-half marathons, a 100K, and the 100M.  You could also run a 5K the day before.  With this many races going off on a looped course it was getting destroyed by the participants.  Below are some of the issues and things I went through as I battled the muddy Rabid Raccoon 100.  

Right before the start of the race. Training buddy Alex Takacs

What went right

Being a March 100 the race itself changed a lot of my training.  Knowing that you have to complete this in March will make you skip the “off” or transition season.  I enjoyed that and it maintained my fitness from the previous year.

Barefoot Stream Crossing

Went barefoot 3 or of 8 times crossing this stream. It felt good and preserved my feet.

Initially, this helped to keep my feet healthy/dry, but as the course became more and more muddy there was no avoiding getting wet.  On the final loops, there was no avoiding just how waterlogged your shoes became. I think I took my shoes off for 3 loops and it did help keep them in decent shape.

Food Plan

I had pre-made bags with RX bars, cashews, goldfish, and shot blocks.  This worked well for most of the race.  I leaned on the aid stations for real food as always with soup and broth.  

Friends and Crew

This more than anything helped me finish.  I shared the race with several runners from the past.  Sharing the race with some great runners made it worth pushing forward.

Alex Takacs – He kicked off the race with perfect pacing and made the race feel like just another day at the Wissahickon, our training ground.  He was the one that got me to sign up for this race.

Trying to avoid the mud in the beginning. The key word is “trying”.

Phil from Chasing10K.com – When I saw the long flowing hair and orange shirt I knew it was him.  We shared miles like we did in the Eastern States race.  He was part of a fun crew that helped me get through that difficult 100.

The running sage himself – Phil Perkins

Michael Fatigante (Loop 7) – Rockstar runner Michael not only paced me late into the night, but he took 3rd overall at the half marathon AND was the support crew for a 100K runner.  When he should have been sleeping he was out running loop 7 late into the night.  I tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted he wanted to help. I would have thrown in the towel at loop 7 because I was tired, and those aid stations were very comfortable.  BEWARE THE CHAIR as they had a sign that stated.

Who takes 3rd in a half marathon, runs support for 100K, and finally tops it off pacing ME for 4 hours. This crazy guy! God bless his heart. – Michael Fatigante

What went wrong

MUD

INSANE level of mud.

How do you train to slide around in the mud?  You spend lots of energy with poor footing and having to calculate every step makes a race more difficult.  Yeah, you could go stomping around in streams in your long run, but it takes 20+ hours for the damage and issues to surface from a race like this.  I was using anti-friction powder and dry socks. LOTS OF DRY SOCKS, I used every pair and I wished I had more.  

Stomach issues after a pepperoni pizza.

What was I thinking?  I asked for a slice and the kid asked if pepperoni was OK.  I said yes, but take my word for it.  Pepperoni is NOT OK in a 100M.  My stomach turned after that and I slowed down for 4-5 miles until it “passed”.

Foot care  

Good luck trying to save your feet

I didn’t pack enough socks. I knew that there would be water and streams in the area, and my initial strategy was working well. However, the trail became excessively damaged due to heavy use. Someone improvised by using trash bags to cover their feet. I wonder if he got across without water seeping in? The persistent mud made it impossible to keep one’s feet dry.

Course tracking died for my friends and family

I reverted to just taking my phone out of airplane mode and texting them after completing each loop. Live tracking broke. I know you can never count on this so always have a backup.  

What I would have done differently

Foot care – Foot care – Foot care

Your feet will be getting wet 8 times and water-logged for much of the day.  Use powder or something to absorb the moisture like spraying your feet with alcohol, or changing into dry socks.  Can you practice this?  Maybe, but it’s really hard to train for this level of mud. It’s funny because I would pass Phil, then tend to my feet, and he would pass me.  Some people don’t need as much foot care, but I like to keep them healthy for as much of the race as possible. 

100 Miler Monster – The Muddy Rabid Raccoon

If they change the course next year I say remove the stream crossing.  It added nothing except novelty to the race.  The course is already so wet.  It also increases their drop rate if temps are frigid.  The course was changed from the previous year, but it should remove some of the sections that are perpetually wet with runoff.  Remove some of the concurrent races.  Focus on just the 100K and 100M and make those the best they can be.  900+ people on a course destroyed the trails BEFORE a single drop of rain fell.  Of all my 100M finishes this one ranks in last place.  Food and aid stations get a 10, but the course gets a 1.  It had some of the friendliest people, amazing food, and the nicest facilities.  If they modify the course and limit the number of races they could have an amazing 100M/100K.    

The French toast bread was an amazing award.

Special thanks to support crew captain and chief – Pascal Durante my awesome father.  I couldn’t have gotten to the starting line in life, and this course without him.  Thanks to my wife and mother for watching the kids. 

Final note: One of the strangest things to happen was raccoons checked out my shoes/poles after the race. I had put them at the back of my house when I got home. This was the first time I had seen raccoons near my house! Weird…

Two raccoons check out my shoes and poles after the race.

My last post talked about battling a “100 Miler Monster”, well this is what I think he looked like. First I tried to generate a “mud monster”, then I tried to do a “Raccoon Mud Monster”. Enjoy!