Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mohican 100

3rd time is the charm! If you want the details of my first two attempts click on Mohican 2009 and Mohican 2011, or see the link on the right side of the page under Race Reports.

I tried for redemption last year but suffered a race-stopping injury during the process in March, followed by a shoulder injury from hiking in VT which resulted in 4 months of physical therapy to restore (thanks to Peak Fitness Rehab).  I was not able to start training and establish a base until the first part of January, which would be a challenge in itself to get back anything which resembled running for a 50 miler yet alone a 100 miler.  Just my kind of challenge!
I knew my running base would be something less then I normally would establish going into a 100, and did not want to get overly aggressive with my training and risk getting injured again, but needed something different than my previous training regime to get desirable results.  I mapped out a conservative and smart training plan with gradual buildup in total weekly and long runs, and intergraded three 50K races with some respectable vertical climbs to be used with my long training runs.  I changed my weight lifting routine, more stair master workouts, and hill repeats.  With no carry over from last year, I knew speed work was out of the question and would sacrifice a fast pace to eliminate any potential injury from this type of workout.  Also my schedule only had me peaking at 70-80 miles per week (normally 100+), and lacking in sufficient multiply repeat weeks of high volume.  I heard someone say it is better to go into a race undertrained then to be over trained and injured.  I had to guard against overdoing my training knowing, my training ethics, and passion to improve.

The trip to OH was uneventful and smooth, weather was cooler than normal, and we had a great place to stay in the Cozy Cabins in the Mohican Adventure Camp Grounds within 300 yards of the race start / finish line.  I was already familiar with the course details (Two 27 mile long loops and two 23 mile short loops) and didn’t need to attend the trail brief after packet pickup, but the energy level was high in the air and it felt good just to hang out with like-minded runners.  The Race Director explained the course profile, and poked fun at the two other race groups (50 mile fun run and beginner marathon group).  It was in good taste, and everybody understood that running just one loop around this course (marathoners) was very respectable.
After getting all my race gear together, Laura and I sat down and talked about what went wrong in the previous races and what we were doing different this time.  I told her I had no 24 hour expectations, not setting a PB, and only had one goal which was to finish this race within the 32 hour limit. Previous attempts I went out too fast, didn’t fuel and hydrate correctly, and underestimated the elevation change to name a few errors I made.

4:00 AM came early Saturday morning. A bowl of oatmeal, banana, and cup of Joe hit the spot before hearing the 5:00 AM countdown in the cool dark morning fog to start the race.  With headlamps bouncing everywhere, it was magical to see a string of lights moving up the side of a mountain.  There was a lot of chatter from the highly charged runners, and I found their conversations amusing as I reflect on my goal for the race. I reminded myself that a lot of new runners to this course will go out way too fast and self-destruct (been there), and I needed to settle early into an easy comfortable pace.  I forced myself in the middle-back of the pack to keep it slow on these single trails.  There would be plenty of time later to pass.  My hydration, electrolytes, and nutrition was all calculated out for the first two loops using Tailwind mix in my water bottle, a gel every hour, along with an S-cap (salt).  This worked perfectly after getting it dialed in on my last few 50K races, and keeps my stomach in check.
Going up the first major climb before hitting the first aid station (AS), a runner behind me must have had his Garmin watch alarm set to alarm for elevated heart rate because it keep alarming on the inclines.  This became most annoying and I was able to get some distance on him when the pack started to thin out.  The heavy fog under the canopy of thick forest trees was something out of a movie scene as the headlamp light beams pierced the darkness.  The trail was runnable and smooth with the exception of a few large fallen trees from the previous night’s storm.  The challenging part was not getting injured from crawling over all the attached tree branches.  Soon the sky started to get lighter and the headlamps were no longer required. 

The first AS (Gorge Overlook, mile 4.3, 1400’ elevation change) was here before I realized it and my crew (wife Laura, son Josh, and daughter Renee) was waiting with a fresh bottle of water / Tailwind mix.  I only stopped for a minute and needed nothing else with it being so early in the race.  The next section didn’t have as many climbs and the field of runners was starting to spread out more.  For some reason, the trails looked and felt different compared to the previous years.  My effort felt comfortable, heart rate felt good, and my pace was perfect and on track.  

Next stop was Fire Tower (4.5 miles, 600’ elevation change) and my crew was standing by with another fresh water bottle and gels.  My plan was one bottle of Tailwind per hour which was 100 calories and needed electrolytes (plus one S-cap).  Another 100 calories from one gel per hour, and the remaining calories from PB&J squares and Nature Valley granola bars.  I thanked my crew and told them I would see them at the Pleasant Hill Dam.  This next section was one of my favorites because of the diverse terrain and hand over hand climb up a root wall near Little Lyons Falls.  The Dam has crew access and is only one mile from the Covered Bridge AS which is off limits to the crew due to limited parking.  After the long steep climb up to the top of Big Lyons Falls, I was expecting the challenging vertical drop down muddy and wet rocks to the bottom of the falls, but was surprised to see wooden stairs traversing down this section.  I guess they got tired of hauling out all the runners getting injured on this section from previous years.  On my way to the Mohican river, I ran into Marty who was legendary with 3 Hardrock finisher, multiple Western States, Leadville, Wasatch, and Vermont to name a few.  He also had the demanding UTMB race in France this summer, and invited me and my family to stay at his house in France along the UTMB course around Mount Blanc if I ever did the race.  He was also a medical doctor and a retired navy officer.  We had a lot in common and I really enjoyed talking with him as we talked about past races, family, and Navy stuff.

Trail going to the falls

Look close to find the runner
Marty was not as excited as me about the hand over hand climb up the root wall, but we had to survive the rock hopping and tree jumping section up the stream to Little Lyons Falls. After the climb, we had a short section on some well groomed trails and soon we rolled into the Dam crew access area.  I introduced Marty to my wife and kids, he hung out for a few minutes to chat, and he was off to the Covered Bridge AS.  I told him I would see him later.  Laura asked how I was feeling and I told her I felt really good and had no issues.  She said my pace was perfect for my projected times.  She looked me in the eyes and said “I have a good feeling and this is your year…Go get it and I will see you at the start/finish line”.  I felt her positive vibes, grabbed a fresh bottle, and a Nature Valley bar for the short mile to the next AS Covered Bridge (6.2 miles, 2500’ elevation change). 

After the Covered Bridge, I grabbed a banana and another PB&J square before hitting the steep switchback climb to the top of the mountain.  This section is the worst one because it just seems to go forever with more elevation than posted.  I passed a couple of runners during the climb as they struggled and I was still feeling very fresh.  After a few more endless miles, I hit a section which I loved to run from previous attempts, as the trail goes along the top of a high ridge overlooking the gorge below with very steep slopes. 

Hickory Ridge AS (5.5 miles, 800’ elevation change) was full of runners getting their second wind before hitting the last section to the start / finish line.  I only stayed long enough to refill my bottle and grab another banana and PB&J square.  This next section had some nice downhill running with a few climbs mixed in.  The last 2 miles was run around and through the Mohican Adventure Camp Grounds.  Last time the course was modified (see last race report) and had a series of very steep climbs from hell.  A lot of the runners gave feedback to the race director (record year for DNFs) and he changed the course to something a little less challenging.  I wished he had left the climbs from hell because I want to make myself better, not make the course easier.  Nonetheless, the trip to the start / finish line was enjoyable as my crew awaited to see how I was doing (Total 27 miles, 7,000’ elevation change). 

I told Laura I still felt great and needed to repeat it 3 more times.  Last time I ran this course, my legs were cramping and I felt like I had been running a challenging course.  This time I felt really good, no cramping, and only 30 minutes slower overall.  It was 11:30 AM and I was 30 minutes ahead of what I projected as a reasonable target.  She said I still looked fresh and didn’t look as tired as some of the runners that had passed through earlier.  This was encouraging, but I also knew how quickly the wheels can fall off in any given section of this course. Laura said she had a fresh turkey sandwich on sourdough bread which sounded really good.  I looked over and there was Marty getting his bottles filled.  Laura goes over and offers him a fresh turkey sandwich which he was very grateful for.  I remember Marty looking me in the eyes and saying “Stay away from the gels and eat lots of real food to sustain your energy level and keep your stomach feeling good”.  You can get away with gels and other stuff for shorter distance races, but not 100 milers.  He said to eat often, and then eat some more.  For some reason this resonated in me and I took his advice to heart.

Temperature was a little higher compared to the morning (high of 88 deg), and I could see what I missed on this loop for the first 45 minutes due to the darkness.  While cruising along the trails in the forest, I reminded myself that last time I went too hard and I was physically broke by the end of the second loop, although I went on another 12 miles until exhaustion; not this year I told myself.  Although I felt really good, I will maintain the same pace as the first time through this long loop.  I also said my family will not see me DNF this race ever again, no matter what.  Twice they saw this course beat me into submission.  Not this time.  I also wanted to show my kids that sometimes we lose battles, but it doesn’t mean we can’t win the war.  Life may knock us down to the ground from time to time, but the true measure of a champion is getting back up.

I saw my crew at Gorge AS again and told Laura how good the turkey sandwich was.  She said another will be waiting for me at the Fire Tower.  When I got there, not only did I devour another turkey on sourdough, but also drank half a ginger ale and half the refilled water in my bottle.  36 miles into a race I usually hit a low point, but not this time.  Marty was right about eating lots of real food.

As I finished the second loop, I told myself to take a little extra time at the halfway mark to get myself refocused for the 2nd half of the race.  My crew was there and ready to take care of my needs.  I sat down for the first time in the race and planned to change shoes, socks, running cloths, and re-lube my feet.  My crew made me a cheese quesadilla to snack on along with a piece of beef jerky.  When I stood up after sitting down for 15 minutes, my stomach started to feel bad and was about to lose it.  I said not again, this happened last time I ran this race and was not able to recover.  Laura told me to sit back down and let my stomach settle down.  There was plenty of time, lots of margin, and needed to just chill for a few.  After sitting down for a little longer, sipping on a coke, my stomach did settle down and I felt much better.  The only problem was my legs got really stiff from the sitting.  I laid down on the cot and my crew gave me a massage to help my legs and feet out.  I also got a 20 minute power nap, which would pay dividends for the night time.  I stayed way longer then I planned, but still good on overall time, and felt like a new runner after the break.  Josh got my headlamp and Renee got my bottle, as Laura reminded me this was my race, go get it.  My crew did an awesome job in keeping me motivated and focused.

The two 27 mile long loops were completed and it was now time for the two shorter 23 mile loops.  After a mile on the trails, my pace felt good, stomach much better, and I felt very positive vibes; last time I was in bad shape and in a bad spot.  This time I was strong and ready for some night time running.  Before I reached the Gorge AS, it was dark and all was quiet and peaceful in the woods.  Before I knew it, I heard voices, the sound of a generator, and saw lights which only meant one thing during a race – Aid Station.  

The AS volunteer asked me if I wanted a piece of pizza which sounded really good.  So I started tearing apart the piece of pizza and walked over to my crew hanging out in the truck, who were not expecting me this early.  Laura was a little concerned for me the last section, but was relieved to see me in such good spirits and tearing into a piece of pizza.  She said they just went to Pizza Hut and had a fresh cheese pizza (still warm) in the truck.  I grabbed a piece of fresh pizza, Renee filled my bottle with half coke and water, and I was gone on a mission.
Bring it

This was the first time all day I put my music on and cranked up some local rock & roll.  I was right with the world, stomach feeling great and full of pizza, sipping on some diluted coke, and running strong.  Bring it.  

Before long, I heard those familiar sounds and saw something that looked like a landing strip.  The Fire Tower AS had lights strung out about 600 yards down the trail – very cool to run into.  As with all the other AS, the first people I see are my son Josh and my daughter Renee sitting on the side, waiting on my arrival.  In an upbeat manner they asked if everything ok, I said it could not be better.  The AS volunteer holds out a box of Dunkin Donuts with 3 in it and says help yourself.  I grabbed the one covered with peanuts (something I never do) and thanked him while devouring it.  I joked a little with the volunteers for a minute, and head up the hill with Josh and Renee to the actual Fire Tower where Laura was chilling.  Renee refills my water bottle with the coke and water mix, and Laura makes sure I got everything for the next long section.  This is where the trail splits and I take the shorter 3 mile stretch to the Covered Bridge.  I look at my crew and said “I’m going to do something you never seen me do before – Run out from the Fire Tower AS to complete this loop”.  This was my DNF point from my last two attempts with this race.  Not this time.  Laura and the kids are laughing as I head out in good spirits again at midnight.

With 600’ feet of descent from the top of the ridge to the Mohican River at Covered Bridge AS, the trip was suppose to be fast except for the mud, rocks, and a wrong turn near the gas line.  It was pitch black, with a beam of light in the fog, and I saw that the trail goes into a small field with a gas line sticking out of the ground.  The grass is waist high and I no longer see a trail.  The woods going around the small field must be where the trail picks up again.  As I start walking around the tall wet grass to the woods, I see nothing that resembles a trail.  I keep looking around and still have no signs of a trail.  30 minutes past midnight and I’m lost for the first time all day on this new section.  Ok, time to settle down and engage the brain.  The grass in the field is not broke with no indications that runners have been through here.  I need to backtrack and find the original trial and see where it goes.  I found the original trail as it comes off the hill, and spot where it drifts off to the side into the woods, just before it goes into the field.  Such relief!  Down another muddy and rocky, sloping trail to a large stream which leads to the Covered Bridge AS.  I saw these two big eyes just off the trail, and stopped for a minute to see what it was.  This huge deer was just standing there as I shined my headlamp on it.  The deer was motionless as I stood there in awe of its beauty.  Time to go before this deer gets territorial and decides to charge me.
I check in at the AS and the volunteer ask me if I would like some potato soup.  OMG, that sounds so good.  As I sip on this very tasty potato soup, and wait for my bottle to get refilled, I look around and see a lot of casualties in chairs covered with blankets with defeat all over their faces.  No words need to be said, we all know what this looks like, and been there, but not this time.  I killed the cup of potato soup, got another for the climb back up the mountain, and thanked the volunteers for all they do.  Up to this point in the race, runners are allowed to have pacers to help them get safely through the 2nd half of the race, keep them motivated, and stay on the trail.  The only time I ever had a pacer was for the VT 100 which my brother ran from Camp Ten Bear to the end with me.  I like the sense of achievement knowing I did it with just a crew supporting me at designated check points.  I thought it was unusual that I haven’t run into very many runners on the trail with their pacers by now.  This next section I still hate, but only have to do it one more time after this.  

I finally arrive at Hickory Ridge AS and all they have is roman noodles, which I hate.  Just the thought makes me want to barf (bad experience from previous races).  I look around and see several runners passed out on the ground under blankets.  They looked to be in bad shape, and I didn’t want to hang out long.  I get some water for my bottle, grab some cookies, and head back out into the dark quiet woods.  My legs started to feel heavy and my attention to details was lacking during this next section.  I stumbled over every rock on the trail, and almost lost my balance a few times, falling off the trail.  I got to the point where I started to swear at every rock on the trail, which was not like me.  I sounded like a true sailor.  Then I realized this was just the low point in the night which I needed to battle through.  On my right wrist, I keep a rubber bracelet my son gave me from his last state championship football season, and on it was the words “Focus” and “Believe”.  Often during my last three 50K races, I would reference this band and the meaning behind the words when I hit rough spots.  Again, I thought about the words and what his football team did against all odds, and used this to give me motivation in the middle of the night, 70+ miles into a race. I thanked God for this ability He gave me, for the awesome family He gave me, for my safety on the trails, and all good things that happen in my life.  I started to feel better, stopped my complaining of rocks, and picked my pace up.  I looked at my watch and started to figure out how long I could stop before heading out for the last loop.

Doing math in your head can be challenging at this point of the race.  Then panic started to hit me just before I saw my crew.  Laura says have a seat and close your eyes for 5 minutes and it’s back out for your last loop (04:45 AM, mile 77, 20,000’ of elevation change).  I told her I don’t have enough time to sit down and I need to keep moving.  I was worried I might not make the cut-off time for the next AS, and finish this race before the 32 hour limit.  I didn’t come all this was, and drag my family through all of this, to fail during the final hour.  There was no way my family was going to see me fail.  I needed to go.  Renee grabbed me a potato soup for me to take on my way out and she also filled my water bottle up with Coke.  I asked Laura if she could go by McDonalds (open 24 hours and 5 minutes down the road from the start / finish line) and get me some sweet tea and a shake.  I remembered from my last 50K, that sweet tea was really good, and a shake just sounded really good.  She said it will be waiting for me at the next AS.  She also said Marty just left a few minutes ago. 

I had fire in my belly and was on a mission.  All I could think about was how hard I need to run to get a little margin back.  My feet were starting to hurt about now, and my legs were heavy, but I had my focus back and believed I could do this.  Within a mile, I ran into Marty, and as I passed him, he said I better get going and don’t look back.  Marty’s advice about eating was spot on, and knew what he told me was what I needed to do.  I started to run up the hills as well as everything in-between. I was not sure how long I would be able to keep this up, but I was not stopping until the job was done.  I hit the long uphill along the gas line and never stopped running for a second.  Everything hurt, but I could deal with the pain.  I looked at my watch and knew I was kicking some butt on this section.  Then it started to rain - Great.  Really, all these miles and climbing hills, hurting everywhere, and under time pressure to complete this loop and it starts to rain.  Stay focused and believe. 

Within an hour I was at the Gorge AS, and my awesome crew was there with sweet tea, a biscuit, and a strawberry & banana smoothie.  Renee filled my water bottle up with sweet tea as Laura hands me the smoothie.  I saw my girl’s arm and it had numbers all over it.  I asked her what all the numbers were for and she said that’s how she kept track of my times.  So cool!  Josh grabbed my headlamp for the second time at this AS (yesterday morning and this morning).  I inhaled the smoothie in a minute and thanked my crew for all they do for me.  Laura asked me if I wanted my rain poncho and I said it wasn’t raining hard enough for it.  Besides, I was somewhat protected under the canopy of trees. Not two minutes later the sky fell out and I was standing in a deluge.  Josh quickly handed me the poncho as I made my way out the AS.

Laura’s Facebook post: “81.1 and the heaven open up w/ a downpour.....large McDonald's sweet tea, a banana strawberry smoothie, and a poncho and he was off again. Such determination in face of such adversity...makes you step back and admire his drive and slight craziness. Lol. Gotta love my man. He treats everything the same way....passion and drive.”

The deluge of cold rain continued for the next hour and I was so thankful for the poncho because although I was already wet, it kept me warm.  Otherwise, I would have been in trouble.  I focused and believed as I kept my head down and plowed through the now muddy, slippery trails.  Look, runners and their pacers.  They were moving slow on the soaked trails as I flew by them.  The runners could not muster up any words but the pacers looked at me and said way to kill it.  Next up was Fire Tower for the last time.  Laura and the kids could not believe how fast I had covered the last section, again.  Renee filled my bottle up with more sweet tea and I was out of there.  Laura said they will be waiting for me at the finish line.

Time for the section I got lost in the last time through.  Not this time.  With all the rain, the mud was ankle deep for most of this section.  I didn’t care and knew it would be over shortly.  I ran into the Covered Bridge AS and asked for another cup of their awesome potato soup.  They only had one cup left and was glad to give it to me.  I looked around and saw so many runners passed out in chairs and on the ground.  I thanked them for all they did for me as they said go get that buckle.  

Now for the big ugly climb up the mountain for the last time.  Be steady and power hike this to save energy for the downhill’s.  I was able to run up some of the smaller hills and made good time for this section.  It still took forever, but I knew I didn’t have to see it again.  I hit the Hickory Ridge AS and kept my visit brief.  Water only and a shot of Mountain Dew for the trip to the finish line.  I looked at my watch and was relieved to know I could walk it in from here and make it on time.  Nevertheless, I kept the pace up because I was ready for this to be over.  The fun was over, and this started to feel like work.  I passed a few more runners and their pacers along the way.  On my way down the hill into the camping area, another Marathon runner was out on the trails walking out his stiff muscles from yesterday.  He looked at me and said, ”I’m in awe of what you can do”.  He said just doing the Marathon on this beast of a course was the most difficult thing he has ever done, and could not imagine doing that four times nonstop.  He wished me luck and congratulated me on an awesome feat.

When I hit the main road in the camping area, a huge smile came from the inside out for I knew I could smell the barn.  I thanked God for getting me through this adventure and keeping me running strong on the muddy trails, even when the Devil tried to still my victory with the cold rain.

I saw Laura, Josh, and Renee near the finish line as I started to get emotional over all they did for me just to get me across the finish line.  I could tell Laura was so relieved to see me arrive over an hour ahead of the final cut-off time.  She had tears in her eyes as she tried to keep her emotions at bay.  Crossing that finish line never felt so good as the Race Director came up and handed me my Mohican Finishers Buckle.  Josh helped me over to a chair to sit.  I think he was worried I might pass out right there and he would have to carry me back to the cabin.  My legs ached too much to sit very long in the chair, and had to lie on the grass to let the throbbing subside.  I watched a few more runners cross the line before my crew dragged me back to the cabin for a shower.  Laura said I smelled really bad and helped me get in the shower.  After a 4 hour nap, I was ready for another round.

 Out of 200 runners that signed up for the 100 miler, only a little over half finished.  Unfortunately, I did not see my new friend Marty finish and he must have run into problems on the last loop.

This would not have been possible without my incredible family and crew.  They gave so much of themselves for me.  What an experience we had together that will last a lifetime.  At least until my kids decide to run this course someday!    

Things I have learned about myself:
I can still run strong the last 20 miles of a 100 miler even when I’m tired, when there is bad weather, when I’m sleep deprived, and when I’m hurting.
I can get ready in 6 months with less than 100 mile weeks, but don’t expect a PR.
My crew is so strong, especially when I need them most.
Never stop trying even if the course has beaten you down twice before.  Never stop.


Johann said...

Wow, fantastic! Well done! Really awesome run and also a great report. Beautiful area to run! Congrats again, any 100 finish is very very special. Rest well!

chris mcpeake said...

Congrats. Way to get it done. Its such a tough course, you must be really happy to get this one in the bag.

Char said...

Congratulations. That's such a huge achievement.

Giorgio said...

Fantastic achievement, Thomas! Huge congrats on such tough challenge!
I enjoyed your beautiful and detailed report: you ran through a wonderful envronment.
Have a nice rest!

Black Knight said...

Fantastic. More than a run, more than and adventure, more than a challenge!
Congrats a lot.

DawnB said...

Congratulations! so awesome! I am so happy for you and thank you so much for sharing the aventure what a challenge!

NY Wolve said...

That's quite a race, and what an effort. Good job. No great job, and so special to share with your family.

Olga King said...

Thomas, so glad I came to check on yo and found you posted the report! What an awesome read - and a race! Great, strong finish, rain and all, fantastic, you had done it and cured the demons!

Jill said...

Woohoo, smiling BIG for you. 3rd time, indeed, is the charm.

I'm not sure how you can run in that heat and humidity, I'm dying in dry Colorado! I salute you. Congratulations!