This seems like a total, “1st world problem”, but what happens if you start to feel depressed after a huge race?
We need massive goals in life that seem impossible to overcome. What happens after you achieve them? With great highs come terrible lows, the yin-yang of completing an ultra race. Finishing one of the hardest, HOT, races in my life I am faced with the question… What’s next? You completed that big task, conquered a difficult day, but life goes on. There’s no parade in your honor. Every day presents new challenges. You need to move on, life is more than your big wins. Set up new, dare I say it, bigger challenges! Rest and take pride in what you achieved, enjoy your victory, but don’t sit in the shade too long. The longer you sit, the harder it is to get back up again. When you start to feel the depression of “now what do I do”, and you wish to experience it all again you must KEEP MOVING! You have to set your sights on the next goal. Start planning the next big race, put something on the calendar. There’s always another race or event to plan for. If you won, or lost on that big day its no guarantee for future success. Nothing is guaranteed. Keep putting in the time and showing up!
One day of success or failure doesn’t define you. It doesn’t label you an ultra-runner. What if you didn’t make it through the course, or beat that time goal you had? In 100 years who cares? I’m sure you would be upset. Just remember life keeps moving, it doesn’t stop for you or your feelings. What life DOES do is give you more opportunities. The saying goes, that when everything goes right we learn nothing. It’s when things go WRONG that we learn the most. Maybe I would have learned more had I failed at my big race than making it to the finish line?
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 the 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 of 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 negative 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.
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.
It rained multiple times you were on the course. Mostly after loop 2, you were wet the entire time.
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.
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.
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!
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!