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Category: Ultra

Pine Creek Challenge 100 – Friends make all the difference

I have figured out the formula for finishing a 100-mile race. Pine Creek is the 3rd time I have completed the 100 mile distance. The key to all 3 finishes was one underlying theme. Surround yourself with incredible people! I know that’s not easy, and it can be total luck. Don’t get me wrong, there is lots of training you need to do, but that is just a matter of putting in the miles. If you can make friends with complete strangers on the course, find an incredible pacer, or put together a great support crew, you greatly increase the odds of finishing. I have been lucky enough those things happen each time. You are going to be battling your thoughts in the race. Having somebody there to talk with eases the pain. They are there to help push the pace or slow things down if you’re going too fast.

Why is it that in an ultra can you make friends with complete strangers? Is it the fact that you are facing a common goal and you both want to succeed? You create an instant bond because of the shared suffering. So the biggest thing I did RIGHT was to make new friends. It has helped me EVERY SINGLE time in a race, except for Vermont 100 where I was gifted the ultimate pacer by chance.

The other thing I really liked about this race was having a pace chart handy. From this point out, if it is a 100-mile race, it is critical to have every single detail of your race in an easy-to-look at Excel-like grid that is laminated. I am going to create one of these cards for every race at this distance.

Race charts like this make you feel like you are actually making progress in a 100-mile race. Somehow, Michelle, had the entire thing memorized!

The other benefit of running with a friend is you hear about new podcasts and books that are worth checking out. You learn about books and podcasts that might interest you and would never be exposed to. You hear about the most impactful material that is in that person’s life.

Michelle, Amy, and myself at mile 50.

I wouldn’t say I helped Michelle as much as she helped me. We completed it together. In my first hundred, 2 people stayed with me to get me to the finish. I remembered how much of a difference that made to have people to chat with. It helps with your mental state and I couldn’t imagine doing it alone. It was nice to go through the night with someone on their journey.

I am 100% sure Michelle was more than able to have completed it alone, but she was also kind enough to share the experience. Having someone to run the race with also keeps you honest about the pace. We would take turns alternating between a run-walk when combo in the later miles to keep under our pace target. It’s one thing to run 100 miles on your own, but an experience shared is so much more enjoyable.

Some of the things that I would say went wrong in the race were little slip-ups.
I skipped a shoe/sock change at mile 30-40 miles. There was gravel and dust that was getting in the top part of my socks that started to cause a rash. I should have cleaned and swapped socks sooner to prevent that. I also didn’t have enough caffeine intake later in the race and I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I finally got a cup of coffee at mile 90 and it made a huge difference. Maybe I can bring my own instant coffee?

I should have had a drop bag at BOTH aid stations, not just the Blackwell. There is something about having access to YOUR stuff that gives ease of mind. Something in the bag you can look forward to that is not at the aid stations. I struggle with knowing what to put in each bag so I opted to put it all in one, which really didn’t work out.

I ran out of water between the longer aid stations, be mindful of a hot hundred and ONLY using handhelds, they actually might not be able to hold enough water if it’s greater than 8 miles between aid stations. I am just grateful the weather wasn’t too intense that day.

What would I have done differently? Not too much, my feet took a beating and I am glad I went with the shoes that I did. I switched out 2 pairs of Altra Torin 5s which felt great and caused zero hot spots. 100s can be extremely lonely, and if you get lucky enough to find a person running a similar pace it is worth staying together. You motivate each other to push when the pain can be unbearable. If I had to do anything different I would have lowered my expectations of a finish time when on a new course.

How would you know what to expect? My “A” goal I realized was going to be almost impossible to hit. My “B” goal was under 24 which I achieved. My “C” goal is to make friends and have fun, but my “C” goal was actually the most important goal. I am GRATEFUL for the experience and will be smiling for the next few weeks with the wonderful memories replaying in my mind. I still feel new to the 100-mile distance and feel like I have a lot to learn. Finally, don’t put your number on your shirt, I was an idiot and switched shirts and forgot to move my number. It should always be on your pants! How could I forget that!

Michelle Goldberg and myself right after the finish.

Final thoughts: I should have never told people it’s going to be easy because it was all flat. I completely underestimated the distance and the terrain. The course was beautiful as you can see from the photos. Would I do the race again? I am not sure… I think I enjoy a more rocky and technical terrain over the endless flat roads. It was great, don’t get me wrong, but I enjoy an actual hill every now and then.

More videos and photos can be found here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/eA6UWL9FSdMsfC1F6

Blues Cruise 2019

What went right?

If you are going to run your first ultra, the Blues Cruise 50K is the one to pick. That’s just what I did years ago and I keep coming back. The vibe of this race is incredible!
This was my 7th time racing Blues Cruise and I had what I call “fun with race day friends”. That’s when you meet new people on the trail and have a great time with them!

Patrick Durante with Kate Sidoli and Jessica Gockley
Sharing the miles with some super fast ladies!
Kate Sidoli and Jessica Gockley
PHOTO CREDIT: Teodor Beekneeyosec

I meet an incredible group of very fast women, all of which won awards in their respective age groups. Making friends can lead to a better race, but its the type of thing that only happens in ultras. It’s the shared suffering that creates a sense of comradery with strangers. You get to take your mind off the pain and it makes the running feel effortless! It places a limit on your suffering and for myself, I seem to run faster! My times are varied for this race, but maybe its because I don’t meet the right people? I’m unsure, but I finished right at 5 hours and felt great. I gave the race everything I had and that’s all one can hope for, just doing your best.

Trailing behind Kate Crane… As she took 1st place Masters.
PHOTO CREDIT: Teodor Beekneeyosec

What went wrong?

I set the virtual pace on my watch at 9:20 and was going to stick to that pace. This was based on what I had done in years previous. While in the race I had more fun running with strangers than focusing on time. I dropped the time goal and just made it about having fun. The people you are running with are better company than the clock. Know when to abandon something that no longer serves you, especially your watch!

I felt a lack of strength in the last 3 miles, the race taking its toll. I still lack late-race leg turnover, which means I lack strength.  Next year I plan to incorporate more strength and signed up for CrossFit classes at CrossFit Kanna. If I had structured workouts with a group I think I’ll find the missing link to better performance.

Relief!
PHOTO CREDIT: Teodor Beekneeyosec

Final thoughts:

10 minutes after the race, I’m in pain but sad. It went by so quick! I don’t want my season to be over! When you are having fun time flies. That night I couldn’t even sleep. I was excited about how well the race went and how much fun I had. I hate to think about the day when I can no longer do this. I just love these long races. Races are the easy part of the season. You are filled with such excitement and being in the race is pure joy. I hope I can keep running until I’m 90! If I can’t I will just find something new to excite me that matches my physical ability.  Keep moving, keep training and keep racing! I always say there will come a day when I can no longer do this. Today was not that day, but hopefully, that day never shows up… 

The loop!

Oil Creek 100 Miler – Mud, rain, and pain…

Why Oil Creek?

Titusville, PA is somewhat close to where I live.  It’s about 5-6 hours outside of Philadelphia.  The past few years my father has run my support crew, which consists of just him.

I did the normal distances before the 100 miler.  2 years ago I finished the JFK 50 Miler, then last year I completed Boulder Field 100K (62 miles).

I decided to do something very different with my training.  If you listen to the Jocko podcast you will hear about the benefits of Jiu-Jitsu.

 Jiu Jitsu is a great workout both mentally and physically. You want to be strong for it and flexible for it. You want to have explosive energy and you want to have endurance. So it’s a very good all-around physical conditioning tool. Jiu Jitsu is probably the No. 1 activity that I could recommend to someone to improve their lives overall.

He speaks so highly of Jiu-Jitsu I decided to see if it would help improve my running.  I decided against the 80-100 mile training weeks that would normally leave me injured.  I worked for years on proper running form, now I just needed the mental side of the training.  I was hoping it would get me through the long night.  I would perform less running in the hopes of learning a new skill.  I knew the race would be more mental than physical.  The saying goes, “An ultra is 90% mental and the other 10% is in your head”.  I signed up forJiu-Jitsu classes at East Montgomery Martial Arts taught by Mr. Exaros.

Was I was going to jeopardize my racing?  There are different types of submissions you perform. Some of them were painful, and I did get injured.  Like any new activity, there is a learning curve, and I just needed to be patient.  After 6 months of Jujitsu, I did notice more strength and confidence, and mentally I believed I could take on anything!  My race times were also improving.  I took that as a sign that it was working, so I was ready for the hundred!

Earlier in the year, I had a very muddy 50K that taught me a valuable lesson about shoes.  Thankfully, it taught me that I need to train and prepare for the WORST conditions whenever I race. Little did I know that Oil Creek would be the worst race conditions I have ever experienced…

Race Conditions  – What 85% of the trail looked like.

This is what the course looked like.

It rained multiple times you were on the course.  Mostly after loop 2, you were wet the entire time.

What worked?

The aid stations that had food were about 8 miles apart. AS #2 and AS #4 allowed you to have a drop bag. Because the conditions were so poor for this race, having a change of clothes and shoes was critical. I made sure to pack 2 aid station bags with a separate pair of shoes and outfit.  I had to change out of wet socks and clothes multiple times to avoid chafing.  Thankfully, the aid stations were only 8 miles apart for food.  This gave you a chance to recharge and pull yourself together.  I had zero stomach issues and was able to keep eating the entire time.  This was important as it kept my energy up.

Sharing the miles 

My best races have always been with complete strangers and this race was no different. It’s amazing how you can create a bond with people you don’t even know.  I guess it is because you are all suffering against the same course. I met Erin around mile 2 or 3 and we ran the majority of the race together. She was a 7-time Ironman finisher and was a WAY stronger trail runner. We talked about everything from family, work, life, and all the things we experience out on the trail.  For her, it was her second time at the race so I looked to her for guidance about the course and what to expect.  Neither of us was prepared for just how bad the weather would get, but we kept going.  We kept moving forward and we didn’t stop, even when lighting struck very close to us.

What went wrong?

I could have gone through aid stations a little bit faster. That would have shaved off an hour. It might have come at the sacrifice to my feet. I was very concerned about blisters so I made sure to change my shoes, shirt, pants, and socks any chance I could. I had read that if you take care of your feet you can get through a 100M. It was just a lot harder to do with all the rain.

One regret was I didn’t bring my small raincoat for my pack.  Apparently, hypothermia is a real concern and I was lucky the temperature wasn’t any lower.  

Are we done yet? Going home loop!

Best race moment?

Sitting on a bench in the middle of the woods with Erin and Gilbert.  We sat there, broken, but we knew aid station 4 was close, and this was our final loop. All that we had left to complete was the “Going Home” loop. The funniest part of the race was when we arrived at #AS 4 and Gilbert’s wife informed him if he completed the race by 10 AM she could see him finish.  She had to be at work.  He sped off, out AS#4 without even saying goodbye.  He really wanted his wife and family see him finish.  I don’t blame him for that.  It made both Erin and I laugh because he kept saying how much pain he was in.  He wanted to quit so bad.  I didn’t understand how he changed it around so quickly.  We did see him after the race and his feet were completely destroyed.

Summary of the race?

You will meet all types of people in an ultra. Everyone is struggling through the race. They can make the difference in how hard you push.  They can motivate you, inspire you, and they might even wait for you if you are slower. Thanks, Erin 🙂

Was it painful? Yes, but if you ignore it long enough you get used to it. The pain came in waves so you just needed to ride it out.  Night racing wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. You just need a good headlamp and lots of caffeine!  I also found it incredible, if I kept repeating to myself, “I feel no pain” over and over again the pain would kinda stop… slightly.  This always reminds me of the Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

Would you run the race again?

Yes! I want to run this thing on dry trails!

I have to thank my wife first for watching the kids and parenting all weekend. My father for driving and supporting me during the race. He asked for nothing in return, or maybe he did but I just ignored him. 😉

I would also like to thank Erin and Gilbert for being awesome race companions!  Final race time:

28:57:42.30   #32nd Place out of 70 runners and 170 total starters.  62% drop rate!

Me and Erin coming in for a speedy finish

When you take on challenges like this in life everything becomes a little bit easier.   On the way home, we stopped by a Burger King for some much-needed junk food.  The cashier said that chicken tenders were going to be an extra 5 minutes to the lady in front of me.  I had never seen somebody get so angry in my life over having to wait 5 minutes.  Her response was, “well I guess this isn’t really fast food!”.  She stormed out of the store while yelling at her husband to wait for them.  It made me think about our expectations, and how we manage them.  If you are able to be understanding, adapt, or change your perspective in life I think you can take on any massive challenge.  Even one like this, where SO many things will go wrong.  It’s not about what happens to you, things always go wrong.  It’s how you respond!

This is what it was all about! A belt buckle I probably never wear. 🙂