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Tag: Ultra running

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. 🙂

Time for a change.

It’s common for runners to hit a plateau in their training and racing.  I’ve been stuck for a few years, and I was looking for a new training technique. I wanted to be injury free for more than a few months and also be able to break 2:59 in the marathon.  It would be nice if I could finish a long run not feeling 100% drained. I read this post from /r/running on reddit.com, which help lead me down the correct path.

He hit on all the major points I felt I needed work. Pacing, diet, and how to recover properly. He achieved the target time that I was pursuing, 2:55-2:59.  So, I followed in his foot steps, in the hope of improving.  I picked up a copy of this book and started to make the necessary changes with my diet.  It hasn’t been easy.  Most will say you are crazy for giving up carbs as a runner.

The easiest way I found is to get a nice blender and start to make smoothies.  I don’t have the time to eat different fruits and veggies, but having them blended into a nice, tasty, and portable drink has made it 100x easier.  In just a few short weeks, I was down 10 pounds from cutting refined carbs.

I’m at 2 months and my MAF tests have been improving.  The MAF test gives you a way to monitor your progress, and it’s been a great training tool.  That, tied with the HR monitor, gives you all of the feedback you need to set a proper pacing strategy for training.  It should help you stay injury free, if you can stay under your target HR calculated by the 180 formula.  I will say, it can be frustrating at first, as it will feel as if you are running too slow.

The true test will be at my next three races, the Sloppy Cuckoo, Blue Cruise 50K, and Bucks County Marathon.  I’m hoping this strategy will give me the edge I need, to perform well and break my running rut.

Tussey Mountainback Race – 50 Miler Race Report

I was very excited for Tussey.  It was the first race, where I would need to travel and spend the night in a hotel.  It’s a nice drive up to State College, as it’s very scenic from Philadelphia.  You get a sense of the terrain as you pass the mountains, on the drive that makes up the “Mountainback” part of the race.  Our destination was the Nittany Budget motel.  The best, cheapest place, if you are thinking about doing this race and need a hotel.  The other perk is that it’s a bottle shop, to bad I couldn’t drink, with the race the next day.  After check in, we made our way to packet pickup, which was located at the Toffee Trees hotel.  I thought maybe this would be an expo of sorts, since it’s considered the championship race for 50M, but the race really isn’t that large of an event.  We grabbed a bite to eat at the Allen Street Grill, which was excellent and not too expensive.  It was also next to a convenience store to grab some last minute race essentials.

Once back at the motel, I tried to get some sleep, but the constant stream of cars to the bottle shop kept me awake.  Someone also decided to let their motorcycle idle outside our hotel room for 10 minutes at 12AM.  It didn’t really matter much, as I wasn’t going to sleep well, with the race constantly on my mind.

Morning came and our breakfast was delivered via a double sided lock box accessible from outside.  We headed off to the race start, which was at the Tussey Mountainback ski lodge.  I said goodbye to my Dad, who was driving the support vehicles, and the race was off to a start.  Looking back, it’s both good and bad that they allowed vehicles on the course.  Great when you can see your support at every check point, not that great when a car needs to pass every few minutes.

Dad made the trip up to drive the support vehicle.
Dad made the trip up to drive the support vehicle.

It didn’t take long until we hit our first climb and passed the first aid station.  It wasn’t that far into the race, maybe 3 or 4 miles that I met my new best friend for the day, Shaun Sauer.  We got to talking and realized we both had around the same time goal for the race.  The more we started talking we both realized the larger goal was just completion, and barring no major problems, we were going to complete the race together.  Shaun’s farthest run at the time was 27 miles, mine 31.  We both had some doubts about what would happen once we were past the farthest distance we had covered in training.  It’s uncharted territory for any runner and you don’t know how the body will respond.  That was the part I was fearing the most, what was I going to feel like when I passed 31 miles.  This would be where your mental preparation comes in, which should be a part of your training, but I’ll post on that some other time.  Running with Shaun, we just kept focused on the course and climbs that we needed to conquer.  Both of us were in shock at the long hill in the middle of the course (2300FT from my Garmin). This was the hardest, longest climb I have run to date.  I would recommend hill training in your routine, at least once a week, if you plan to do this race.  I used a hill near my house to do repeats once a week.  The hill takes two minutes to climb, with about 100 ft of elevation. I also did long runs done on a pretty hilly trail system.

Patrick Durante Shaun Sauer Tussey Mountainback
The two differences between my training and Shaun’s was that he did upwards of 70 MPW, and I felt he pushed the pace more than I did.  The training plan, that I was on, had me at 50 MPW.  In hindsight I’d say this wasn’t enough, and at the time of the race, I regret not getting in more.  I’m sure most people say the same thing after the fact, but I fit in as much training as my schedule allowed.  As the saying goes, don’t force it where it doesn’t fit, and I definitely couldn’t fit in any more mileage.  I did get in multiple runs over marathon distance and think that was my only advantage.  Also, my training had more technical terrain.  For Tussey, I would call this more of a road race than a trail race.  This is a perfect first 50 mile race because it’s not rocky or difficult terrain.  Personally, dealing with the distance was tough enough, so I didn’t want to add technical terrain on top of that.
Patrick Durante Shaun Sauer Tussey Mountainback 5
For me, the race became a death march around mile 36.  I developed a blister on my pinky toe, that caused pain with every step I took.  I decided to change shoes because I could feel the hot spot coming on at mile 27.  I put Vaseline on it, which seemed to help for a few miles, but didn’t completely resolve the issue for me.  At two different aid stations, I had to cut the blister to relieve the pressure. It was still painful but bearable.  I did try to patch it with moleskin, but it didn’t seem to stay on my toe.  Next time I would try to prep with more body glide. I have also picked up some feetures socks since then to avoid this in the future.  In training I had zero problems with blisters, but I never ran farther than 36 miles.
Allowing cars on the course is both good and bad.  It’s nice that you get to see your support crew at every aid station, but having to deal with cars passing every few minutes was annoying.  If I had to choose, I would say it’s still more of a benefit. It was nice to be able to tell my dad something as he drove past, and he would have it ready at the next aid station.  This is also necessary for the relay portion of the race, so I understand why it’s needed.
For the last 10 miles of the race, we switched to a run/walk combo.  Almost everyone that I know that does an ultra walks at some point.  In your training you should practice walking fast.  It’s a tool you can use to give your legs a break.  We reached the final aid station, which is 5 miles from the finish, and my last chance I had to check my blister.  I cut it again to relieve the pressure and try to put some moleskin on it.  I picked myself up, and joined Shaun after he met with his wife for the final time.  This was the last leg of the race and it was all downhill.  We pushed the pace as much as we could, but my quads, at this point, were destroyed.  The pain was horrible, so much that it was really turning me off wanting to attempt something like this again.  I just couldn’t wait for this thing to be over, I felt so much of  relief when I turned the corner and could finally see the finish line.  I asked Shaun if he was going to go for it and, and one second later we started sprinting toward the finish.  Behind us I could see there were two runners that were gaining on us, and then, finally it was over.  We crossed the finish line in 8:26:33.  This was faster than I thought we were going to run it, and a great time for my first, and possibly last 50 miler.
Patrick Durante Shaun Sauer Tussey Mountainback 3
I could not imagine having to do this race alone, I actually think I had such an advantage with having a running partner.  It’s less time you would have to listen to your own internal monologue telling you, “This is painful”, “Please stop”, “Why are you doing this?”.  If I had to do it again, the only thing I would change would be upping my weekly mileage to 70-80MPW.  I think that played a big factor in the amount of pain I was feeling in the end.  My final thoughts on this race/distance is that it takes a ton of time to be competitive.  More time than I’m willing to commit, I’m happy with the 50K distance.  I’ll try to perfect my 50K before I would ever attempt another 50 miler.  I keep going back to my first experience at Blues Cruise, and nothing compares to it.  So for next year I think that’s going to make that my main focus and set a goal to place in the top 10.
Patrick Durante Shaun Sauer 2 Tussey Mountainback
There’s three people I have to thank for my big success at this race.  First, it’s my wife for giving me the time with a newborn to train for this race. Second, it’s my dad for making the trip up to State College to support me.  Finally, it’s Shaun for running an entire race with a complete stranger.  This was the most difficult race I have ever run, but running with Shaun made the experience easier.  It did not feel like 8 hours when the race was over.  His support helped me through some really tough patches during the race.  He said I did the same for him, so I’m glad that I could help him achieve his goal.  I really don’t think I would have completed this race otherwise when the pain became almost unbearable.  Running is not a solo sport when you think about it, it can be a team effort.  So if I didn’t have my wife, Dad, and Shaun helping  me I could not have completed this race.
Post race I didn’t really like their food selection.  The soggy hoagies from Subway didn’t taste that great, but they did have live music and beer which was great.  I quickly proceeded to burger king to get a greasy burger and fries with a tub of coke.  I was pretty sure I earned it since I just burned upwards of 7500 calories.  Overall, this race provided me with a very enjoyable first 50 miler experience.  So if you are looking for your first 50 that’s not extremely difficult I would say pick this race for sure.
38 PATRICK DURANTE ********* 65 32 M 23 0-39 2:58:22.17 8:26:33.48 10:08/M
39 SHAUN SAUER 158 47 M 7 45-49 2:58:23.19 8:26:34.50 10:08/M