I made the fatal mistake of running someone else’s race. I was running too much with a 25K person vs a 50K pace in the heat. I was just having too much fun and not really thinking. I should have known better, I have had races in the heat before and knew this could happen. Basically, I didn’t save anything for the 2nd loop, where the true race began. I had put too much stress on the body early and created a debt I was unable to repay. I should have slowed down, but my ego got the best of me. I was under the false assumption it was going to stay cooler because there was good cloud coverage. On the 2nd loop, as expected, the heat/humidity shot up and I started to slow down drastically.
What went right
The first loop was good, I was running with TJ and it was nice to talk with him. The only issue was he wasn’t doing the 50K, he was doing the 25K. He was in 6th place for the 25K when he crossed the line and I was right behind him. Why in gods name did I think that was a good idea is beyond me… I wore compression sleeves and filled them with ice, I had an ice bag on my chest, and I took salt tablets. Once I started getting dizzy I knew I was in serious trouble, it was at this point that I tried to find shade and lay down. There was a nice person who ran a bag of ice back to me, I should find out who that was and thank him. He didn’t have to do that and sacrificed a huge amount of time from his race because of my stupidity. All I could do at that point was wait it out until I could get back on my feet. I tried to get up but my leg kept cramping. As I started to walk back near the stone wall I threw up all the water in my stomach. Once that happened I actually started to feel much better. I have to use the aid stations more effectively if it’s this hot. Stop, don’t rush, take your time and relax. It would have maybe saved my race and given my body time to absorb the water. I should have known I also missed the sign that I wasn’t peeing. That can be an indication your body is not processing the water.
What would I have done differently
Tips for my next hot race:
You should be peeing! If not drink more water!
No records broken that day.
Painfully slow start.
Don’t be stupid, you can’t bank time!
Heart rate is a window into how your body is managing the heat.
I went to this race with zero planning and it showed. The only item missing from my heat strategy was SLOWING DOWN. Thinking I could beat the heat was such a stupid idea that backfired. I am glad it did. I am two weeks away from my first 100 of the season and I would rather learn the lesson here than there. That’s the power of the weather and I never respected it. If you disrespect the heat, the rain, the cold, it will END you.
The longer the race the more you have to create a plan and stick to it. You can’t just POWER through longer races. The mistakes of the beginning catch up with you. If there is heat in the forecast, then you need to go out PAINFULLY SLOW. Meaning so slow you almost can’t stand it. Put yourself at the back of the pack and just wait.
On the plus side, I did get some good footage to remember this failure. Enjoy!
The TL:DR of this post to “beat the heat” for a hot 100:
Make friends on the course.
Ice early, often, and everywhere you can on your body.
Wear white to reflect heat.
It’s never as bad as you think.
Start out painfully slow.
The 5-minute nap is a powerful tool.
Be blessed with a completely selfless pacer.
Watch your heart rate. It’s an indicator of stress just like the horses on the course!
Adjust your expectations if racing in hot conditions. I joke that life is about managing expectations, and this race was no different. The race changed from a sub-24 to completion when I saw the weather forecast. Having an ego will get you killed, and this being only my 2nd 100 miler it was more important to finish. Some much-needed advice came from a friend of my parents, Barry Lewis. An experienced ultra-runner and long-distance tri-athlete. He knew that trying to “bank” time in the morning is a poor strategy that will lead to failure. He stressed the point of running “painfully slow” in the beginning. It was tough to watch so many people take off in the beginning, but he was right. If I could control my pace I would be reeling them in at the end, or at least not just another casualty of the heat.
It is human nature before we start any task to think it’s worse than it truly is. We make problems greater than they really are. Fear cripples us before we even start. WHY? It’s never as bad as you think. At the start of the race, I noticed the course had a large amount of tree coverage. There were only a few exposed sections. This made me breathe a sigh of relief. The temps were high but never felt unbearable (heat index of 106 was what was reported on the course). I started to use ice at the first aid station. I knew if I had ice on me before the sun came up I would keep my core temp down. I stayed ahead of hydration but still drank mostly to thirst. I put ice in my drinks and for my chest at every aid station. Everyone has a different strategy, I just filled a ziplock bag with ice and stuck it on my chest. It was held in place with my hydration vest. The added benefit of the zip lock bag is you can drink the icy water when it melts.
During the race, I chatted with my fellow runners, made friends, and heard stories of what brought others to the 100-mile distance. The ultra-running community is very friendly and people love to share their stories. I’m no different and made many friends along the way. They help break up the miles and take the focus off the pain. If you are left alone with your pain for 30 hours, odds are, your pain will win. It is easier to suffer through a race of this caliber if you know your friends are suffering too. Even if you just made those friends a few hours ago.
I was able to see my Dad at a few of the aid stations. The support of my father reminded me of the book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise and the section about parental involvement. We only can reach a level of performance if we have the support of our parents. Dependant on how much they care determines how much time, effort, encouragement, and overall success we will enjoy. I have to make sure I extend the same to my 3 children. Making sure that I take an interest in their hobbies and support their efforts.
For a 100 mile race, most would say the real race begins at mile 70. Camp 10 bear was the last place you see your support crew and was where I was going to meet Mark Richardson. Mark signed up for an ultra himself when he chose to pace 30 miles. Is that even common? Most people I talked to in the race had 2 or more pacers for the last 30 miles. I didn’t realize that maybe I shouldn’t have put such a large requirement on somebody like that. My last hundred was run with 2 other runners for the majority of the 2nd half. I’m unsure if I could even run the later miles of a 100 completely alone, the night can be the most challenging mentally and physically. As much as running seems like a solo sport, ultra-running never feels like one. You talk to everybody out on the trail and you have support from complete strangers at aid stations.
The fact that this race would match you up with a pacer is a great service. Kudos to the race director for making that happen. That made all the difference in my success and in helping me “beat the heat”. Mark signed up to see the course and see if he wanted to run VT100 himself. He didn’t know me but made the trip up to support a complete stranger! I met Mark at such a critical spot in the race and was already 18 hours in. He didn’t even know if I would drop. Mark was ready at 10 PM to run, and really do whatever was needed to get me to the finish.
One unexpected effect of the heat was blurred vision in my left eye. I guess the muscle was fatigued and couldn’t focus. Mark watched the clock as I took a brief nap around the 80-90 mile mark. I was so tired at this point in the race I was closing my eyes as I was running. The short nap was an effective tool to get me both mentally and physically back in the game. I should have done it sooner, I should stop putting off little problems in a race because they can easily become larger issues. I was fortunate this was easily corrected with a nap.
Something else I would have done differently was to wear my headlamp around my waist. I had never seen so many flies on the trail, but that might just be normal for Vermont. I should have moved my light around my waist so they wouldn’t be flying into my face. Mark was also kind enough to lend me a bug mask to wear!
Since VT100 is one of the last 100-mile horse races in the county I learned some interesting facts about the horses. A fellow runner who made performance rubber shoes for horses mentioned they use heart rate to gauge stress level on the horses! There are hold stations on the course where they monitor the HR recovery after they have the horse do a gallop or trot. This will show if the horse is close to overexertion. For hot races, a heart rate monitor can provide a critical insight into when to slow down or walk before it is too late.
Finally, Mark and I were in striking distance of the finish and we had just left the final aid station. We scarfed down some delicious waffles from Polly’s and set out to complete the course. I was using every aid station as a checklist to be completed. I just kept saying “get to the next aid station”, and really before I knew it they were all done. All I had to do now was make it to the finish line. Something came over me in those last few miles and I wanted to see how many people could I pass. I swear we passed at least 20 people, with each one giving us a little push to pass the next. It was one of the high points for me in the race because I felt good to still be able to run this late in the race.
The question comes up all the time. Why run 100 miles? I like the problem-solving of it. I enjoy training. Come race day, I enjoy meeting new people going through the same experience. It teaches you that life rarely goes as planned. My current favorite quote is “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” As soon as you start thinking negatively the race will go south, but that is true of everything in life. Try to stay positive regardless of the situation, and regardless of what happens to you.
So how did I get here? That’s what I usually ask myself. It’s always when I ‘m pushing myself to some new extreme or event that I had never done before. I was browsing this subreddit when I came upon the video “Running Madness”. If you haven’t seen it you can check it out here (WARNING: You may feel the need to enter an ultra after watching. ) That video helped spark the idea of, “Would it be possible”? Would I be able to get ready for an ultra in under 2 months? I had already put in a decent amount of training to complete Steelman a few weeks ago. In my previous post, I had mentioned I was following this schedule. I would fit the long runs in during the week with running to work, and then get the rest in during the weekend. At least that was the plan…
This same time last year, I was preparing for the Philly marathon and having some issues with top-of-the-foot-pain. I worked hard to correct my form, I even recorded myself running on a treadmill to analyze it. That information helped me correct my form and I haven’t had an issue since. I’ve done high mileage and some of the hardest runs to date. So everything was falling into place, if I was able to get in more miles and stay injury free the ultra would be easy, right? Well that’s what I originally thought, I would later find out that they made a HUGE change to the course.
I felt as though the training was difficult but not unbearable, I actually started to really enjoy my long runs to work. They were a time to relax and unwind, except for the part where I run through a state park at 5:30AM in the dark. Running in the dark was a new experience and I picked up this. Either way, most of my miles were done with a mix of road and light trail. This didn’t fully prepare me for the new course this year.
Of course the night before the race it starts raining. This has me worried about what conditions would be like, and to top it off, it starts pouring on the way there. I know that this won’t be good for the trails, I had run a trail race earlier in the year, the Mt. Penn Mudfest, in the rain and nearly twisted my ankle twice on the course. The idea of doing that again was starting to worry me, I was fortunate in the fact that the rain stopped right before the start of the race.
So the race is off and I seeded myself near the back. I know I’m going to be in for the long haul and I wanted to avoid as much pain as I could. I was amazed at how fast some people went out, I guess I was expecting more of a leasiurly pace but that wasn’t what most seemed to be doing. They have you start with running on the road for a half mile before you enter the trail. It was 98% trail, there was only a few short sections where you had to run on the road. Most of the time you spent it running parallel to the lake, or opposite corn fields. The rain had made conditions very slippery. I can’t count the number of times I had to catch myself from slipping on mud and going down. The week before I had spoken to multiple people who had done the course last year. They all said the same thing, it wasn’t much of a challenge, and it’s relatively flat. They had done an out and back but this year they opted for one big loop . The first 10 miles were relatively easy, as you can see from my Garmin data below, the difficult hills didn’t come till later in the race. I had done hill work but nothing near the level of what I experienced. Looking back, I know I should have spent more time with hill training. I had heard from someone else that you should walk the larger hills of a trail race, so that’s what I did. I think this helped save my legs for the finish.
If I had to say anything about the people you meet in a trail run, it’s that they just seem to be a nicer group. I talked to a few different people along my 31 mile journey and they were all very friendly. I actually took a spill going down this one hill and a guy took the time to stop and help me up. He even turned around and pulled the tree root out of the ground that tripped me so it didn’t get anyone else. You don’t experience this when you run the big city marathon. Everybody has their headphones on and focused on their run. There’s a bond between trail runners as you suffer the course together, it makes you talk to your fellow runner. That, and the fact that there’s not 20,000 people running the race at the same time.
I had an additional “ace up the sleeve” to help me get through the race. My parents were actually worried about me heading out on such a long run, my Dad offered to drive up with me. In the “Running Madness” video they talked about pacers, so I asked him if he would be willing to meet me for the last portion of the race. I can’t begin to explain the difference this made, after mile 22 I had been running alone. When I got to the last aid station to meet up with him, he had already run 4 miles out to meet me. I was dead at this point and my legs were in pain, but when I got behind him to finish out the last leg of the race it gave me a second wind. I was able to pick the pace up and continue on to the finish. I wouldn’t have done nearly as well for those last 4 miles, the most difficult to complete. I can see why a pacer is so critical, especially if this had been a longer race.
When I did cross the finish line it was the single best experience in running to date. I have never felt such a sense of accomplishment as I did completing that race. As for my results, I was 17th with a time of 4:45. I’m pretty happy with all things considered. I learned a lot in this race, and I learned just how critical your pace can be. I should have taken it easier on the start, maybe walked a few more hills, and pushed a little harder on the downhills. This was the most fun I have ever had running a course. The aid stations were packed with good food and good people. I can say for sure that I will be showing up next year. I heard they are doing the course in reverse!!!