Friday, October 7, 2011

FATS 34 Mile Race

As I mentioned in my last post, work has been crazy busy pulling 12+ hour’s night shift 5 – 6 days a week.  Nevertheless, like all crazy ultra-runners, I had set a personal challenge for myself.  One that I haven’t done before, but knew I could, and would make for a good training run.  The annual FATS 34 mile race in my backyard, and where I do most long training runs, was last Sunday.  The only problem was I had to work the night before (Saturday night).  This is how my incredible 24 hours went:

Woke at 3pm Saturday after pretending to sleep during the day (worked the previous nights)!
Pulled a 12+ hour night shift at work (6pm to 6am).
Arrived at the house with 20 min to change and grab gear.
45 min drive to race start (coffee in hand).
Arrived at the race with 10 min to spare for check-in as I listened to Terri (RD and personal friend) give her brief to the runners.

Another runner approached me and introduced himself as Chris.  He is a follower of my blog, and we had a short conversation about family and running ultras.  We had a lot in common and seemed like a very cool guy.  Wished I had more time to talk, but the race was starting and I was tired from working all night.  

 The first loop was The Great Wall, as we fell in single file.  I could not get over the unusual cool morning temp of only 45 deg.  It felt great, and my body wanted to race hard, but I held back the urge to push it, not knowing when the wheels would fall off with the lack of sleep.  I knew these single trails like the back of my hand, and knew to get up in the front with limited passing opportunities.  The trails where in great shape, the weather perfect, and could not ask for a better day.  An older man was in front of me and had set a comfortable pace to follow.  I figured I would just hold it here as long he didn’t slow down.  His name was Paul and was returning to running after recovering from a triple bypass.  He was a 3hr marathoner back when he was running, and got a wake-up call after taking several years off.  He discovered trail running, changed his eating habits, and has a new perspective on life.  He had an inspiring story and was great to run with.

We hit the next loop (Deep Step) and I had to take a pit stop in the woods.  I told Paul to keep going and I would catch up later.  After taking care of business, and several runners running by, I found my pace again, and made my way to the common AS on the main trail head, which we would see 3 times.  I saw Terri (RD) there and stopped to chat with her for a while.  We talked about Mohican last June and how difficult the course had become.  The Mohican race was one of her favorites, and I believe she set a female course record back in her competitive days.  Terri is an amazing and gifted runner with over 250 ultras completed.  She told me I better get going, and I had spent a lot of time here (~15 min).  I told her it was well worth it to talk with her, and I wasn’t racing hard today – Just a long training run (2nd for the week).  Trying to get ready for North Face 50 in two weeks!  

On to the Skinny and Brown loops with a nice rolling 5 miles, and a few miles of awesome downhill running to the Savannah River.  I was still feeling great (must have been the double espresso gel I took) and could not hold back anymore.  I dropped the hammer and let it fly.  I flew passed about 12 runners during this section and just really enjoying the moment.  Some of the runners were walking the hills and it made me want to run the hills that much faster.  It’s just an amazing feeling when everything comes together for a single moment, and you feel powerful, strong, and confident.  The sweet spot of running!  

I flew into my wife’s AS (She, the kids, and her sisters run this AS every year) and talked with them for a few minutes.  She was concerned about me not sleeping, but I told her how awesome I was feeling and need to keep riding this high before it fades.  She filled my bottle half with coke and half with water.  I ran into Paul, and he was glad to have his trail guide back.  I told him it would be a steady climb from the river back to the common trail head.  I introduced him to my wife, and said we better get going.   
After a few miles, I could feel the low approaching.  I told Paul to continue on and I would see him later after I worked this out.  I backed off my pace, had another gel and S-cap, and made forward progress.  After about 2 miles, I started to feel better and picked my pace up.  I Caught up to another runner who started to race against me like it was the home stretch.   As I approached him, he would pick his pace up, and then slow up again on the hills.  I laughed inside for a minute, and then I said enough of this.  The next hill he slowed up for, I dropped the hammer and flew by him, and never slowed up.  I wished him luck, said you look strong, and told him to keep grinding at it.  

 I hit the last AS, grabbed another caffeine gel, S-cap, PB&J square, and filled the bottle.  Last loop was Great Wall in reverse.  The first 3 miles was mostly downhill back to the Savannah River.  I was feeling good, and challenged myself to run this loop in the same time as the first time I ran it.  I passed several more runners who were just shuffling along.  I still had a good strong stride going, much to my surprise, and wondering if this was when the wheels were going to totally fall off.  

Have you ever had someone pass you early in a race, and you told yourself you wanted to pass them before the day was out, for no particular reason.  I had two guys pass me on the first loop which I mentally told myself this. Just as I was thinking about maintaining a steady pace on this last loop, I approached the first guy who had an Ironman tattoo on his calve, and cruised past him with a smile inside.  Must have been my lucky day because within the next mile I caught up to the second guy.  He was putting up a fight to stay ahead of me, but noticed his pace dropping off on the hills.  Sounds familiar, so I picked my pace up on the hills with a hunger for some competition!  Shortly after, he pulled aside with heavy breath, and said go get them.  I wished him luck and said only 3 miles to go.  I put some distance between us, and was hoping I would hold on for the uphill climb.  I saw two more runners ahead, but didn’t have the energy to catch them.  Beside, we only had ¼ mile to go and too late for a last minute charge.  I crossed the line in 6:43 (1hr quicker compared to last year), sub 7 hr was my realistic goal considering sleep deprivation, and felt fairly good considering the past 24 hours.  Thank God Laura was there, and drove us home while I crashed hard.

WOW – What a 24 hours.  Glad I did it, but wouldn’t want to do this too often.  Funny how this started off as a training run, and how my competitive juices started to flow and ended up being a race!  I could have gone sub 6 giving my condition.  Sometimes we are stronger then we give ourselves credit for.  We just have to let it happen.  Great race, awesome volunteers, and a gifted RD!  A perfect 24 hours of living!  Thanks Terri for all your hard work.  Looking forward to next season!


Anonymous said...

What an exciting race report. I'm still smiling! You made me realize and "confess" to myself about a couple of getting annoyed by just someone without a reason for passing you! Haha! But that makes trail running so much fun and thank goodness for it otherwise I'd be out there forever!!!

Congrats on your huge PR,Thomas. Can't wait to hear about your next big race.

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Wow, that is awesome!! You are freaking hardcore!!!

Congrats on the race

Rooster said...

Congratulations on your personal 24 hour event! :) I loved your FB post about the man you met at this race. So great to see he has changed his life. Also, big high five on your PR!

Chris said...

It was great to meet you and I wish we could have had more time to chat. You are indeed a stud for running after pulling a 12hr shift! It was a perfect day for racing. The FATS 50k is certainly no "gimme" course either. Congrats on your PR!

Thanks for the great report (which reminds me I need to write my own) :-)

Black Knight said...

A friend of mine, who usually worked during the night in the port, used to say: "My real race is to arrive at the start after a night like this"! ... it was the same for you !
Great report and greater race, congrats!

lindsay said...

sounds like the race turned out well! i can't imagine doing all that running after working all night. congrats on the sub-7!

Beth said...

What a great race! Congrats on finishing an hour faster than last year. That is quite an accomplishment. Hope you got to take a little nap after all of that!

Alisyn said...

You are amazing and such an inspiration! I don't think I could have ran as hard with the lack of sleep. Not a soda drinker, but so curious about the coke and water thing as I have never heard of such! :)

Hone said...

Nice! I use to run a lot of races flying in from Alaska on the red eye. It makes it more epic and fun when there is a serious lack of sleep before a race.

Keep at it!

Olga said...

I know exactly how it is to vow to pass someone at the beginning who is obnoxious or doesn't look smart running (you know, like, you shouldn't be ahead of me, honey, and you should be able to chat with me when I talk and not panting!). Way to go!

Giorgio said...

Congrats on your good time taken! I really enjoyed reading your beautiful and detailed race report about that challenging 34 mile race which you ran through those wonderful woods!
I sometimes thought I wanted to pass someone for no particular reason :) You're right!

Jannick Kjaer said...

Hi Thomas,

I am sorry I am leaving a comment, I can't find your email. I am writing you in the hopes that you want to participate in an e-book we are writing about ultra runners.

We want to tap into the collective craziness (we mean that as a compliment:-)) of this community to challenge and inspire other non-runners to make their own life an ever-greater creative expression of their own goals and dreams… without limits.

Progress so far: We have currently contacted more than 250 ultra runners and received more than 60 answers.

We would ask you to answer a question about your experience with ultra running. Please note that these questions are related to your mental state and require that you are able to explain quite specifically what is going on mentally when running.

If you'd like to participate please shoot me an email at


All the best,

Olga said...

Great comment on AJW:)