Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mohican 100M Race Report

This is just a bad patch and I will snap out of this any minute. I’ve experienced this before and know I just lean into it, embrace the suck, and drive my way right through to the other side. It’s dark, lonely, and I feel isolated! I’m tired and physically exhausted with wild glaring eyes upon me! This moment has been rehearsed in my head the past 6 months, and I didn’t come all this way to toss the towel in now. Not this time.
Six months of hard dedicated work to get this monkey off my back. 2009 I ran the Mohican 100 for the first time, and dropped due to heat exhaustion, dehydration, and none stop throwing up at Fire Tower AS after 16 hours of running and ¾ of the race completed. Not this time because I knew what to expect and adjusted my training to guard against this. I scheduled my training runs when possible in the afternoon GA heat which was consistently in the 98 deg range for the last 4 weeks of training. I used the sauna 2-3 times a week, after running in the heat, to make sure I maximized the adjustment. I know my weaknesses, and hot & humid races are such a challenge to my system. I do best in cooler conditions, and aware this would not be a PB race, but I still had to get on the dance floor and face the music anyway.

The 10 hour drive north was uneventful, but the couple of days before the race were full of surprises. First it was the hot water heater leak which my son Josh and I replaced. The new water heater would not produce hot water and had to call Whirlpool to first complain about their new heater already not working and I didn’t even get a chance to use it yet. They sent someone out the next day to take a look, but this meant another night without a hot shower for the family. The next day (day before we left for the race) a repairman arrived that afternoon, and discovered the control board was not wired correctly at the factory (imagine that). He replaced it and said in a few hours we should have hot water again. A few hours later, I went for a short 5 mile run to trim the energy level down a few notches. On my way back to the house, a storm started to brew out of nowhere, but I was not too concerned because I was only a couple miles from the house. Just like that, dark clouds covered the sky, the wind kicked up, lighting and thunder, and a few drops of rain. I hit high gear and started to sprint the one mile remaining to the house. A few minutes later the wind got really strong and started to swirl overhead as debris was flying all over, and in my eyes. I was going down the last stretch down to my house and the street lights went out with the sound of cracking pine trees all around. Now it was dark, tree limbs in the road, junk in my eyes, and the loud cracking of trees falling right next to me. I stopped and looked up at the tree line to see if any trees were headed for me. It sounded that close, and my spider senses kicked up in high gear. I heard two trees fall right next to me as I finished my sprint to the house in the dark. I’m thinking this is exactly what I don’t need – Twist my ankle, or strain a ligament the day before I leave for the big race. Is someone trying to tell me something! My daughter Renee and I lit some candles around the house as the storm continued with high winds and a deluge of rain. My wife and son arrived to what appeared to be a step back to the dark ages with the power being out. Guess this means another night of no hot water! The next day we found out a small twister touched down just a few miles from us. I think it went right over me. The power was restored in the afternoon, and we got a late start for OH. The usual dramatic start for another trip!
Unlike the past couple of days, the trip was uneventful as we rolled into the small town of Loudonville with only thirty minutes to spare before race brief. The race director talked about the new course changes and emphasized that no PR would be possible due to this more challenging and demanding course. He commented on there are no flat stretched (only hills), and highly recommended walking the steep climbs, and take it easy on the down hills if possible. The RD pointed out the worse climbs would be within the first three miles of start line, Lyon’s Falls, leaving Covered Bridge AS, and the last 2.5 miles before returning to the starting line. This was a 4 loop course completely different from previous years with 95% trails.
After the brief we headed to Landoll’s Mohican Castle to check-in for the weekend. The suite was cozy with a beautiful view of the grounds. No time to play with the clock moving fast forward so we got everything unpacked and ready for the next morning. While unpacking the Avalanche, I briefly talked to another couple staying there. She was running her first 50M and he was attempting to finish his first 100M (He dropped at VT100 last year). They both acted very nervous and jittery about the race. I tried to put them at ease by telling them their ready and just enjoy what the day gives you on such a beautiful course.
The next morning went like a well-rehearsed drill with my wife and kids getting a few last minute things pulled together while I lubed up and donned my battle gear. It was obvious this was not our first rodeo. After a 10 minute drive in the pouring rain, we were at the start / finish line with 20 minutes to go before race start at 0500. I just love all the energy in the air before the start.

As we lined up with only a couple minutes to go, only a few of us got up in the front. For some reason, everyone else fell in towards the back like they were in church Sunday morning. The countdown was over, and so was the rain, as we started our long journey into the dark morning fog. It felt good to be running, the machine was working perfectly, and running up front with the top dogs gave me a different perspective, one that I liked.

We set the pace for the field, and it wasn’t long before we hit the single trail going under the canopy of trees, dodging mud holes, as we fell into a single line. Within the first 1 mile we hit our first climb of the course which went straight up a steep series of switchbacks in the dark forest. With fresh legs, we ran up the first half, but soon feel into a fast hiking pace as we realized we would be climbing for a while. As a handful of us were the first to the top, I turned around to see the long line of lights behind us slowly making their way up the incline. What an awesome sight it was, in complete darkness, and all these individual lights strung out like some movie scene. We hit cruise control in the cool wet morning air as a new day was making way with the first hint of morning light started to pierce the forest trail. How beautiful the trail was with the canopy of tall trees overhead, soft ferns brushing the legs, and rolling dirt trail under foot. I was so into the moment that I forgot this was a race, or about staying on track with my race strategy. I was to start slow and comfortable, easy on the inclines (like the RD strongly suggested), drink a lot, and keep on top of my nutrition and electrolytes. I also was going to run my own race and not get head faked with the 50 milers (faster pace) starting at the same time. I looked around and saw a lot of 50 miler color coded race numbers, and a few 100 milers. Just one hour into the race, we hit Park Rd aid station at mile 6. Not bad considering the steep climbs and muddy trail. I grabbed a gel, refilled my bottle, dropped my flashlight off, and off to the next section. Ok, time to get my head into this and take care of myself early before I get to the point of no return. Although I felt great, I throttled my pace back a little, popped an S-Cap, another gel, and empty water bottle before next AS. A few more 50 milers passed by as I kept my desire at bay to go faster. Just as well because one of them had some bad body odor. A blink of the eye and I was approaching MTB Parking AS which I would see my crew.
My wife was surprised to see me so soon, for I was 30 minutes faster than expected with only 10 miles down. I told her I felt great, my pace was comfortable, and all I needed was some ice and water. I looked over and saw a single outside bathroom…I will be back in a minute. Pull on handle, door locked, urge strikes hard, but first in line so be patient. I waited forever when finally the dude came out. Better here than in the woods. After taken care of business, I told my crew the next section would be slow, and would see them at the Dam.

The first 2 miles was mostly downhill, which was a nice change considering the first 10 miles. This too would soon come to an abrupt stop as the trail started to climb up a long semi steep forest service road for a mile. At the top, we took a hard right to a very muddy and slippery downhill slope, covered with fallen trees, as we made our way to Big Lyon’s Falls. This was slow going as I kept myself from doing anything fatal this early in the race. Last week a pacer out scouting the course fell here and broke his leg and had to be air lifted out. The Falls were beautiful, and just as I remembered, from 2 years ago. This was the first part of the course that the previous years’ course used. The run down to the Mohican River was on smooth gradually declining muddy trails, and it was a nice change after all the climbing and mudding. I remembered what Ronda told me about don’t fight the mud, just slide with it. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end way too quickly. After a short section up the river edge, it was time for Little Lyon’s Falls which consisted of a hand over hand climb up a moss covered, slick, root wall. But first a short ¼ mile section up and over fallen trees, rocks, stream, and muddy embankments. I took my first and only fall on this section, covered in mud, but nothing hurt. This was more of an obstacle course than anything else.

Nevertheless, it was very beautiful, majestic, raw, and like a place that time forgot. After the steep climb up root wall, and another short run up a smooth wide dirt trail, I emerged out of the woods and was on the Pleasant Hill Dam.

My crew was ready to support with whatever I needed. They were always one step in front, very supportive, and would not let me linger long before pushing me out. A very short decent down the Dam, and a one mile stretch along the Mohican River, which is the only flat part of the entire course, before approaching Covered Bridge AS. A little under 3.5 hours into the race and I’ve only covered 15.6 miles. I knew the last section was going to be slow, and I was still with the tail end of the front pack of runners. This is going to be a long day.

I grabbed another PB&J sandwich and refilled my bottle again, before heading back out on the last two sections on familiar trail. I knew what to expect because the trail to Hickory Ridge AS was the same from previous years, and the section after that was the same, except for an additional 2.5 miles called the Private Property section. The first mile was a good steep climb up to the top of the ridge on a set of long winding switchbacks. With a handful of food, I consumed while going up, up, and up. I was very pleased with my intake – Grabbing sandwiches at AS, gels every 30 minutes, S-Caps every 45 minutes, Perpetuem in water bottle, peanut butter filled pretzel,… I was not going to make the same mistake I made two years ago, which caused me to drop.

Once on the ridge line, there are some nice runnable sections, and some great views of the river valley below. Some of the trail section has some dangerous looking steep slopes, which could be a challenge in the middle of the night. I can’t imagine taken a bad step and falling down the side for a couple hundred feet in the dark. This section always seems to take forever to run.

I covered the 5.5 mile section in just over an hour before reaching Hickory Ridge AS (21 miles). Only stayed long enough to thank the volunteers, refill bottle, sandwich, and off I was.

The last section of the first loop started with a nice comfortable downhill stretch, with some more beautiful views of the valley below. The trail soon found the bottom of the valley near the river before briefly joining the first section of trail the race started on. Then it split, with some more climbing, before crossing the river for the 2.5 mile Private Property section from HELL. Ok, only 2.5 miles and the first loop will be completed, with only 3 more times around for the race. This is going to be a tough, great day.

If I was designing a course, and wanted to be totally sadistic and cruel, this would be the section. Another friend who ran this race described best by saying in his report, imagine a ¼ mile hill with no switchbacks (straight line up), so steep you almost need to use your hands. Now, cover it with golf ball size rocks with false summits. When you finally get to the top, it’s the same way back down. Now, repeat this 4 more times with the race starting / finish line around the corner. My calves started to cramp on me, with some twitching of the quads. Way too early in the race for this to start. I was taken plenty of electrolytes and fluid all morning. After all those nasty hill repeats, I was ready to see my crew to get me pumped up again.
I checked in at the starting line AS, and went over to where my crew had set up camp. My wife asked how I was doing, and I told her good until the last 2.5 miles. I re-lubed the feet, changed socks, got some fuel in me, and was ready to go. Laura massaged my legs and I felt like a million bucks again. 27 miles down and 6 hours into the race! This was slower than I planned, but considering the course, I just need to keep driving forward and be satisfied with completing it with all I have to give. Like the RD said: No PR will be set on this course. Back out to repeat the loop all over again, but this time I knew what to expect.

It was nice to see this section again in the daylight, and adjusted my approach to the steep switchbacks. I thought about what Evan said about hitting the hills hard. I did with the gradual hills, but not these steep climbs. The weather felt great with temps in the 80s and high humidity. Some of the runners didn’t look so good out there, and complaining about the heat. With all the heat training I did to get ready, it felt good to me and had no problems with the heat all day. I was still running strong, stomach felt good, hydrated, and positive. I hit the Park Road AS and got the ice cold sponge water on the back of my neck, which was a shock to the body. Olga’s advice of pace yourself during the race now entered my mind as I progressed over the forest floor. I saw my awesome crew again at MTB Parking AS and Laura gave me another leg message. They cramped some on some of the previous climbs. Now for the Lyon’s Falls section which was more climbing. After the first mile, I started to feel a low point coming on, and my energy level dropped. I recognized it and knew I just needed to drive through it. On the first big climb, I ran into another 100 mile runner who was struggling and puking uncontrollable on the side. He was not looking too good, and I could tell he was in a bad place. I stopped and stayed with him for a few minutes until he got it under control. I gave him some encouraging words to get him refocused. A few runners passed by, but I didn’t care at the time, and knew I would pass them later. I told the sick runner to see my crew at the Dam and they would take care of him. He thanked me for helping him, and assured me he was better and just needed to walk a little. I wished him luck and continued my march up the forest service road to the top of the Falls. My energy started to come back and I was feeling really good. Down the slippery mud slopes to the river, along the river bank, and back up the root wall. I again remembered what some of my ultra-buds told me on my previous post: Slide with the mud, pace yourself, and hit the climbs hard. I was feeling strong, and blasted by the runners that passed me earlier, going up to the 1/2 mile hill section to the Dam. My crew was there waiting for me and surprised to see me so soon. It felt like a slow section, and thought I lost more time. I thanked the kids for being there for me, and gave Laura a kiss for all she does to support me. I told them I will need my lights the next time I see them at the start / finish line.

Off I went to the one flat spot on the course before seeing Covered Bridge AS again (42.5 miles / 11 hours). I needed little time here, grabbed another PB&J sandwich for the climb up to the ridge line, and top my water bottle off.
I could feel my legs cramping again every now and then. Another, what seemed like forever, section to Hickory Ridge AS. Along the way, I passed some 50 miller runners in bad shape. One was on the side empting his stomach while his friend was helping him out. I told them they were going down the home stretch, to keep going. I ran up on another 50 miler and cruised with him for a few minutes. We talked some before he felt comfortable enough to say how crazy I was to run 100 miles. He said 50 miles was barley fathomable, but 100 was plan crazy. I told him I thought that also during my first 50 mile race when I saw the 100 miler going back out to repeat the 50 all over again. I knew it was coming, and he asked me why do it? I said running a marathon, 50k, and 50 milers I could do even on a bad day. But a 100 miler is a completely different animal. There are no guaranties I will finish on a good day, which is what makes it so attractive. He paused for a minute and said he had never heard of that before, but makes sense in a strange kind of way. I said there are many more reasons, but he would have to figure that one out for himself if he’s among the lucky few who dare to go past what is possible. I wished him luck and picked my pace up.

As I entered the Hickory Ridge AS, I saw a few hurting runners hanging out trying to get their game back on. I could feel my energy level dropping again, and didn’t want to stay here long. I was tired of gels and perpetuem, and nothing looked good at the AS. I grabbed another PB&J sandwich bite and was back on the trail heading downhill. All I could think was that last 2.5 miles and the Devil who planned it for the race. Before I knew it, I was faced with the first climb in the peak of the late afternoon heat and humidity. My legs started to cramp again, my energy went rock bottom, and I started to get pissed because of the ridicules climbs. A few other runners around me were verbalizing what I was thinking and feeling inside. Most where 50 milers on their way to call it the day, and I still had two more trips around this loop in the dark. I had to get away from all the negative vibs they were putting out, and hammered the last downhill section to the starting line (54 miles and 14:30 hours). Back to my crew so I can get refocused, energized, and fueled up for the next time out. I told Laura I will need a few more minutes this time to get myself together. She asked what I needed, and I told her a new set of legs because the cramping is more frequent. She messaged my legs again, I changed socks, a fresh pair of shoes ½ size larger, and ate some chicken noodle soup. I was a little concerned with my energy level being so low, and wanted to take a few minutes to get something in me before facing my next big climb up the steep switchbacks. After drinking a cup of soup, I grabbed 2 cups of pineapple chunks in juice, which tasted really good. It’s been awhile sense I craved food. All this settled well, and took a few sips of cranberry juice, which didn’t taste good. I stood up to get my act together, and out of nowhere my stomach had something else in mind. Laura looked at me like something is wrong, and before I could get the words out, I was running to the side of the tent and started emptying my stomach several times. I was feeling great a minute ago, and now this!

I felt good afterwards, and had to get going, but knew it would be awhile before I could eat anything. Laura was concerned with me not having enough in me and remembered gummy bears worked during a previous race in this condition. She handed me a bag and said to work on these on my way to the next AS. On my way out, I was thinking how was I going to get through this next section with nothing in me. Keep moving forward and I will bounce back. The sun was going down, and it was darker under the coverage of the forest. I keep putting a couple of gummy bears in my mouth, and was able to keep them in me. This was a good sign, and could feel a little energy as a result. I came up on another runner and her pacer, as she also started to empty her stomach along the trail. I got an eye full of a power puke, which didn’t’ disturb me too much. Her pacer gave encouraging words to get her back moving again. Just a few more minutes down the trail I ran into another runner and his pacer as he was getting ready to do the same. His pacer started to ask about his water intake and electrolytes taken. This time he waited until I passed before the show started. After a few more GB, it was time for the relentless switchback up hell hill. I would go up a few turns and stop to get myself pulled together. A few more switchbacks and stop to rest the legs! What seemed like eternity, I finally made it up as the darkness took over the woods. I could feel myself really fading bad at this point. My legs shot, low on energy, dark, and moving slow. I look up the next hill section and saw a pair of large eyes looking down at me at a distance as my light reflected back. Too dark to tell what it is, but it was watching me as I made forward progress. A few minutes later I noticed the set of eyes still following me, as I thought to myself it is either wondering what I’m going to do, or maybe I’m going to be the late night snack. I wouldn’t have much fight in me to put up much of a battle, and would be an easy meal. Whatever it was, it must have felt sorry for me, and moved on.

I started to wonder what was happening to me. Just a little while ago I was moving well, and in a good place mentally. Now I’m struggling bad, mental game off, legs worn out, and moving forward slowly. Time for that talk with myself to get me motivated again. Ok self – It’s dark and my energy level will naturally drop. Legs tired but still moving forward. I’m not dehydrated and electrolytes in check. Just another bad patch, put your head forward, and drive through it. It will get better, just keep moving and suck it up. You didn’t do all this training to let it slip through your fingers again. All the afternoon runs under the blistering sun, long training runs, weight training,… I need to get my butt moving, and get through this bad patch.

What seemed like eternity, I finally made it to Park Rd AS (60 miles / 10:40 PM). They said I was looking really good (Imagine that). I refilled my bottle with lots of ice and water. I looked around for something to eat but what few items they had didn’t look good. I asked for some sprite, but all they had was one small cup of some off brand. Better than none, and I drank it with no problem. I grabbed a handful of very stall potato chips as I made my way out of the AS. I got a couple of chips down and tossed the rest. They tasted really bad, but I was willing to try something. I went into a brief dark period in my mind and started to think about having to climb the last 2.5 miles of the loop two more times. I finally snapped out of it and started to focus on more positive thoughts. I started to move better, but my legs were just too fatigued to do much. I was really struggling bad and just felt completely exhausted. The trip to Fire Tower seemed like eternity. I finally got there and my faithful crew was there waiting for me. Laura said I made good time, and was again surprised to see me so soon. She knew it was going to be a bad section for me, and would take a while to cover. She wanted to know what I needed and I told her new legs again. I told her I was done for the day and was completely physically exhausted. My legs had nothing left to give, and could not handle another climb, let alone a fourth trip around this loop. I said I’m good with my decision because I gave this course all I had with nothing left to give. Mentally I’m good, but physically I’m spent. The course won again. I remember my 13 year old daughter Renee looking down at me and saying “Dad, I will go with you during the next section. How long is it?” This tore me up thinking she was willing to go off into the dark forest, which she knew would have been scary, just to help me get a step closer. I thanked my girl, and assured her I would if my legs had anything in them. We sat there for another 20 minutes before Josh helped me to my feet and helped get me in the truck. I officially dropped at the Covered Bridge AS (66 miles / Midnight). I knew this would be another bitter pill to swallow, but also knew it was the right decision based on my physical condition.

A lot of feedback was given from other runners to the RD on the level of difficulty the course was based on the description on the race web site, and how cruel the Private Property section was. One lady who completed Western States last year said this was a lot more difficult, and dropped early, as well as ¾ of the field. Another elite woman and accomplished Bad Water top finisher, along with another Grand Slammer, did not complete the course and dropped after completing only 2 laps. I say leave the course as is. Don’t wish it was easier, make yourself better. I will, and look forward to the challenge again.
I made a lot of improvements getting ready for this race. The time spent in the sauna, and runs during the heat of the day paid dividends. I had no blisters, and only experienced a little discomfort in my right ankle. Where I failed was expecting a course like the last time I ran it. My training would have served me well on the old course. All the new climbs were more demanding on me compared to how I trained. I will have to do a lot more hill repeats and stair climbing before taken this beast on again. It deserves respect. Although I lost another battle, it only fuels me more to come back and win the war. It was a challenge to conquer; now it’s personal!


Char said...

What a great report. And your daughter Renee - she'd just gorgeous, wanting to help her Dad reach his dream. Your family are all so supportive. You're a lucky man.

chris mcpeake said...

Great report,
I agree that they shouldn't change the course at all. I want a shot at the same course again but man they got to do something about those aid stations.
Maybe will cya there next year

Rooster said...

You have a wonderful family. It's always so hard when train for one thing and encounter another, the body is just not ready for it.
Sounds like A really tough course. Rest up

Olga said...

The pictures of straight up's are great, alhough when comes in a race, might cause different feelings...Often putting recount into words seels the past. I like how you said to train harder, not wish it were easier. Welcome back!

Anonymous said...

Great report and so exciting to read.
I can't even imagining being out there for so long and man, those ups are monster ups! You look in super shape...can I borrow your legs...please!?

Black Knight said...

Great report full of beautiful pictures, this could be a wonderful article for a magazine.
You have a wonderful family, thanks also to their support you can achieve any goal.

lindsay said...

i'm impressed by your memory - i have a hard enough time remember details in a 5k, let alone 66+ miles :) what a technical course! although you didn't quite make it to the official finish, you still fought hard and more important - spent time with your family.

JD said...

I dropped at the same spot, probably 20 minutes after you. That race was unbelievably hard on so many levels (terrain, course, heat, questionable aid stations, little crew access). Can't believe I'm going to have to do this again next year.

Olga said...

You are the man. Thanks. I left you a message on my blog:) I needed a dose of truth.

Lauren said...

I haven't come close to 100 mile race. I totally can relate to this blog though. Changing the course is big bummer. That would totally throw me. I have lots to take from this blog if I decide to go against my dnf this August (50k that I dropped due to heat exhaustion). Thanks for all the insight.
ps. i can't even imagine those climbs in such a long race. And I go for extreme climbs!

Vince said...

I've been to Loudonville 9 times in the last 12 years as a runner, crew, or pacer. I've completed the 100 twice, DNF'ed twice, and paced friends on numerous occasions, so I've seen many Mohican course variations. The 2011 edition was tough and I was glad to be entered in the 50-miler. I did miss the old red loop though. Was it unfair? Absolutely not! Like you said, just get better!

Gotta run,

Vince said...
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