101 miles, 27+ hours of running, hiking, walking (and pooping), and one can only stare off into the distance thinking, why the eff did I do that…
The thing about ultra runners is that we’re often mislabeled. We’re not health nuts or fitness nuts, we’re just nuts. Running 100 miles is absolutely nuts. For the few athletic super-humans, 100 miles is but a walk in the park. For the rest of us mortals, it’s a challenge that will reduce you to nothing and somehow, through pain and misery, inspire you keep getting stronger.
I finally bagged my first 100 mile race. Writing those words brings tears to my eyes so this post will take on a life of its own and may very well make zero sense once complete.
- Race: http://www.devildogultras.com/ 
- Where: Prince William Forest (near Quantico, VA)
- When: December 7, 2019
Warning: this is a brief but sappy thread showing some of my true self. You’ve been warned.
It was my early 20s and I looked in the mirror one early Summer evening. I was disappointed. I was angrily disappointed. My grades, my attitude, my behavior, my body were not a reflection of the standards I was taught nor held for myself. I remember this moment as if it were yesterday and still have that flimsy mirror in my possession. I called myself out that evening and flipped a switch inside to redefine myself.
I re-committed myself to my crafts. School first, my body second, the relationships around me third. It was a determination and focus that’s hard to describe. None of it easy nor did the results come over night. Years passed and the hard work started paying off. Jobs, meeting my now wife, finding mentors, and countless hours committed to living a healthy lifestyle. I met and surrounded myself with people that brought out the best in me. I was happy and reveling in the fruits of my labor.
My early 30s brought on some drift. Nothing bad but the focus and pursuit were not there. I laid in bed one New Years Eve and relit the fire. First, being more present with my family. Second, back to marathons and taking care of my body. Third, eliminating anything that wasn’t adding value. Things immediately improved. The goals mindset carried into every pocket of my life, giving me purpose and appreciation. One marathon turned into many and many marathons allowed ultra distances to become the focus.
I ran my first 50 miler in 2017 and this past weekend completed my first 100 miler. A week later and my body is moving with ease. The excitement for what’s next is starting to build. I worked my ass off for years to reach this goal. It didn’t happen overnight and without unwavering support from Nicole and the people I chose to surround myself with. 5am wake ups for a decade and counting. Fueling my body with healthy foods. Committing to rest and sleep. Giving up alcohol and wild nights out with friends. Fighting injuries and pain and learning my body. Relearning the meaning of trust and patience. Running when my mind didn’t want to. Running when my body didn’t want to. None of it easy.
As much as the last weekend gives me a sense of accomplishment, I’m mostly proud of the near 15 year journey. Never let anyone else define what you can accomplish. Keep dreaming, keep moving, and keeping working your ass off to be your best self, however you define it.
What I loved
- I finished. For all the proud moments in life, this one is up there. My only other attempts at 100 miles is four loops on The Wild Oak Trail. 112 miles of unsupported, mountain running. The DNF’s weighed heavy on my mind and I’m beyond thankful to get my first 100.
- There really wasn’t any major low point in the 27+ hours. There were moments of doubt and even some passing thoughts on quitting but never any long suffering pity parties. When things got tough, I got focused on the next marker. A bridge crossing, a fire road, an aid station. The last bit of loop 4 was not awesome. I was nearly 80 miles into the race and Saturday turned into Sunday. I kept telling myself, 5.5 miles to the aid station, then 8, then 6. I kept telling myself, “I can do 5.5 miles.” For the first time, in a very long time, I kept my head in the moment and stayed true to the plan, to take it one section at a time.
- My friend Erick, a super experienced ultra runner, kindly decided to crew me. We didn’t have much of a plan nor did I expect much other than to see him and likely have some company for a bit. Looking back, I can’t imagine finishing the race without his support. I first saw him at mile 36. I sat while he brought me food, refilled my bottles, and gave me all sorts of encouragement. This was repeated at varying aid stations all the way until the bitter end. He also joined me for loop 4, patiently shuffling through the woods while I was somewhat quiet and not moving very fast. The best and most powerful thing of the entire weekend was shortly after 3a on Sunday: I was sitting by a fire after finishing loop 4. I was tired and less than excited about another loop. I ate and hydrated and rested for a few fleeting moments to recharge myself. He came over, looked me dead in the eye and said, “it’s 3:13, you need to go.” That was the defining moment of the weekend, the most powerful and memorable words of a 27+ hour adventure. He flipped a switch inside of me that set me out for the fifth and final loop with a purpose. For a sport that is highly individual and nonsensically selfish, none of it is possible without friends that hold you accountable and help you reach your goals.
- To lighten this post up a bit: I like to judge races by my bm-to-fall ratio. Spoiler, I’m typically deep in the woods, and well, bathrooms are not even necessary. But past races have usually resulted in a few falls, some of which have led to a DNF. Sometimes it’s the gnarly terrain, other times it’s tired legs giving out, and other times it’s just a lapse of focus. I only had two very minor falls this past weekend. The second was a near river bath if not for the tiny tree that I grabbed. While I don’t want to speak to the other side of this equation, I’ll just say I fell less.
What I learned
- The elements never bothered me. We had fairly good conditions for early December but almost everyone complained about the cold. I’m certain this was a large factor towards half the field (~100 started) quitting. It was in the mid 20s for most of the night but it felt quite pleasant to me. Good gear and a good attitude make a huge difference.
- I got but a few hours of sleep the night before. I was worried at the starting line, having woken at 3a with little to no sleep and knowing I had a grueling 24 hour adventure ahead of me. After a decent week of banking sleep, I threw it all away with little to no sleep the night before. I need to get better at this.
- My right calf/hamstring (really not sure) started barking at me on loop 2. I had some sudden tightness in my right hamstring the week leading into the race but didn’t notice much on race morning. I got through the first 3 loops without too much difficulty even if I felt it getting worse. I changed into some compression shorts for the 4th loop and charged on. Unfortunately the pain became too much and the fifth loop was mostly power hiking with some very limited shuffling. No death marching but can’t say I did any actual running in those last 20 miles. A week later and there’s some pain that I’m hoping will not need anything more than rest.
- Loops are hard. Doing 5 loops is really hard. The back half of loop 4 was a mental grind, knowing I had to go back out when a lot of things hurt. While I still need my 4 loop revenge on The Wild Oak Trail, I’d like to set my sights on something that doesn’t come with the mental burden of repeating loops over and over and over again.
- I had some lingering back/neck issues coming into the weekend. They, in addition to some other aches, weighed heavy on my mind. Part of my strategy was to run light with minimal supplies. So I started out the first loop without any water and aimed to maximize the aid stations (every 6-8 miles). Thankfully Erick saved me at mile 36, giving me a small handheld bottle that I could use and refill for the next ~70 miles. This was just dumb on my part.