Thursday, August 26, 2010

2010 Beast of Burden Summer 100 Race Report

Perhaps a bit overdue, but in the interest of making a small contribution to ultrarunning lore, here’s the story of my 16 hour, 19 minute, and 5 second winning effort at the 2010 Summer Beast of Burden 100-Mile Run. Fair warning: this will be long, and there will be an awful lot of minor detail in this report, for the benefit of those who want to dissect this race in the interest of improving their own ultramarathon performance.

First, a little background: I left Aberdeen, Maryland at around 11:00 a.m. on Friday, the day before the race, having gone in to work at 6:00 a.m. that morning. The estimated driving time to Lockport was 7 hours, but I figured that it was a conservative estimate, and that I had left plenty of time to make the packet pickup at Finnan’s in Lockport, NY. What I hadn’t counted on was that the route would go through major highway construction on I-86, as well as Williamsport, PA during the Little League World Series. Factoring in the several stops for food/bathroom and several traffic jams, I arrived at the packet pickup right at 8:00 p.m., when it was scheduled to end. It was a shame that the drive was so nerve-wracking, and that I didn’t have a co-driver to take pictures of some of the really amazing sights along the way, including the views of the Susquehanna River from Route 15, and the billboard advertising the Little League Hall of Fame (which must be seen to be believed).

I bring up all of this seemingly unnecessary detail because for anybody interested in doing this race in the future, and planning on driving up from the Baltimore/DC area, it’s probably a good idea to allow about 4 hours of slack time in the travel time estimate (or about 11 hours total). Also, because I had a very full day between work and driving, I was dead tired and not entirely coherent when I arrived at the packet pickup.

As luck would have it, another runner, Nick Osterfoss arrived at the same time as I did, and neither he nor I had a place to stay. I had brought a tent and a sleeping bag, planning to camp out near the start line, but Sam Pasceri, the race director, was generous enough to let us stay at his house, so we could get a good night’s sleep in “real” beds. After dinner at Finnan’s, where I had a fish and pasta dish, and some sort of chocolate cake for dessert, we went back to Sam’s house and talked shop about running until we were all too tired to think straight. Then, at last, sweet sleep.

I woke up around 7:00 a.m. on race morning after one of the best nights of sleep I ever had before a race. Turned out that being dead tired from being so busy really helped. I had a small bowl of Cheerios in skim milk and two fried eggs for breakfast about two and a half hours before the race. After setting up my drop bags (consisting primarily of headlamp and flashers for night, Clif Shot Blocks, and Endurolytes), Nick and I headed out to the course with Sam, where we provided “moral support” as they began to set up the Gasport aid station, which was about halfway between the endpoints of the course. We caught a ride back to the starting line, where I then applied a generous layer of Coppertone Sport sunscreen, filled my water bottle, and chatted with the other runners.

After a very brief pre-race meeting, where we were mainly instructed to stay on the course and not litter, we lined up at the starting line, and at 10:00 a.m., we were off. Sam purposely took the lead in the first half-mile, so that there would be no confusion about which bridge we would cross (the Exchange Street bridge, for anybody keeping track). Once we crossed the bridge, Sam dropped back, and the race was on.

At this point, a discussion of my race strategy is in order. I knew, coming into this race, that I had a very good chance of winning, given the competition, and I also had a good chance of posting a fast, “breakthrough” time for a 100-mile race, given my recent training and race performances (something in the 14-16 hour range seemed achievable). I wanted to accomplish both of these goals, but at times, these can be conflicting goals. Ultimately, I decided that if I wanted to definitively win the race, I would need to go out fast and set the standard, and then hold on to the lead. This is an uncomfortable strategy for me, as I generally prefer to start slow and chase late, but, provided that I didn’t do anything too stupid, this was also the strategy that afforded me the greatest chance of running a fast time. To add to the support for this strategy, Connie Gardner, whose 100-mile PR is somewhere in the low 17-hour range, was entered in the 24-hour race, and it would be a bit embarrassing to win the 100-mile race with a slower 100-mile time than the 100-mile split posted by the probable winner of the 24-hour race.

With all that in mind, I ran at a mid-to-high-7-minute-mile pace down the flat, gravel towpath along the Erie Canal, gradually putting separation between myself and the group behind me. One man, who was entered in the 24-hour race, and competing in his first ultra, decided to run with me. We both made it to the Gasport aid station (at about 7 miles from the start) in a little under 56 minutes, where I refilled my now-empty water bottle, while he blew through the aid station. We ran together until the turn-around point at Middleport, where I stopped for about 5 minutes to refill my bottle, and to pocket some additional Clif Shot Blocks to replace the ones that I had already eaten. At this point, because he again blew through the aid station without eating or drinking, the other man was well ahead of me, but I didn’t worry about this, as I suspected that it would not be possible to keep up that pace without any food or water.

As I made my return trip, I saw the group behind me, which included Connie Gardner and Jeremy Pade, my main competition. They appeared to be about half a mile behind me, which felt too close for comfort, although objectively, this early in the race, it was a substantial lead. Rather than think about the pack nipping at my heels, I focused my attention ahead, on the little black dot that was the other man I had been running with, who had skipped both of the first two aid stations. Chasing is what I’m comfortable with, and it was comforting to gradually see the size of that black dot increase as I gained on him. At my stop on the Gasport aid station on the return trip, I ate a few Swedish Fish (simple sugars to supplement the more complex sugars in the Clif Shots) before continuing the chase. I finally caught and passed him with about 2.5 miles remaining in the loop. The back of his legs were covered in white foam, which turned out to be soap suds because he had used too much detergent when he washed his clothes. (Not long after, I would see him sitting on a bench near the start/finish, complaining of cramps – he ended up not making it through 50 miles.) I crossed over the bridge, and finished my first 25-mile loop in around 3 hours and 20 minutes – an 8-minute mile pace. Aside from feeling a bit suffocated from the combination of the humidity and the dust from the ever-present gravel on the path, I felt strong, and totally ready for my next out-and-back.

On the way out for my second loop, I passed Jeremy, who had broken away from the pack that he was running with, and now appeared to be about half a mile behind. It appeared that he had kept pace with me, which was discomforting, because now I had to stick to my strategy at all costs, or risk being at a huge mental disadvantage for the remainder of the race if he were to pass me. I dialed back the intensity just a bit, but continued running strong. I was having very little issue with my diet (about 20 ounces of water per hour, about 100 calories per hour, in the form of Clif Shot Blocks and some sugary candy, such as Starburst, Skittles, or Swedish Fish, to supplement, and two Endurolytes per hour), which was reassuring, since stomach issues have often sidelined me in these races. I reached the turn-around point comfortably, and on my return trip, I could see that my lead on Jason had increased to about a mile, which was also comforting, since I still felt good. However, at the Gasport aid station on the return trip, my stomach started to turn. I asked if they had any Tums; they didn’t. Fortunately, another runner who happened to be at the aid station at the same time gave me a Zantac, which helped a bit. Still, for the sake of not reaching a point where my stomach issues became crippling (or, for that matter, the pace became unsustainable), I threw in a few walking breaks between Gasport and the end of the loop. This slowed my 50-mile split to about 7 hours and 7 minutes, which was a slight disappointment, since I knew that I was in range to break 7 hours for 50 miles without breaking myself for the duration of the race. Still, I felt good about running a 50-mile PR in the middle of a 100-mile race.

Then came the moment of truth, as I headed out for my third loop, anxious to see how far ahead of Jeremy I was. I crossed over the bridge and still didn’t see him. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally passed him a little before the 1-mile mark on the path – it turned out that my lead on him had increased, to somewhere between 3 and 4 miles. This meant that I now had a bit of safety margin, but with nearly half of the race to go, one stupid thing, such as a major stomach issue, could cause me to blow this lead. I decided that since I seemed to be gaining on him, and my first 50 miles had been very much according to plan, I would slow down a bit, take more walking breaks, and conserve energy to both prevent a breakdown, and to have something in reserve should one occur anyway. I reached the Middlepoint turnaround once more, and was nervous as I headed back to see how this plan had worked. Others weren’t, of course – a few other runners asked me how I was going to spend my prize money, to which I replied that it would cover the cost of entering this race, plus the repairs to the roof of my house that I had to make about a month ago. It grew dark as I headed back, and at nearly 4 miles from the turnaround point, I passed Connie, but still hadn’t seen Jeremy. I wondered where he was, and, for a while, I thought that somehow, he may have passed me without me noticing, although I couldn’t come up with a situation in this race in which this would be plausible. As it grew darker, and the rain came down more heavily (it had been at least drizzling since 4:00 p.m.), I became more and more convinced that Jeremy had dropped out, and that I was running in the front alone, with a sizeable lead. Finally, when I reached the 75-mile mark, I was convinced that, barring anything stupid, I would win the race.

As I headed out for my last loop, a little over 11 hours into the race, I decided three things. First, I was going to win the race. Second, I was going to post a fast time even if my last loop was “slow.” Third, because this was not my focus race, but instead a long training run on the way to my goal, there was no sense in pushing hard on the last loop for the sake of lowering my finish time. I resolved to run the last loop comfortably, stopping to walk where I needed to, and enjoying the scenery at night (to the extent that I could, with rain pouring down and the temperature dropping). When I began my return from the turn-around point, I passed Connie nearly 5 miles from the turn-around point; I was now almost 10 miles ahead of her. I took a number of walk breaks from then on to the finish, including walking the last mile and soaking it all in (especially the large raindrops falling from the trees). I finished the race in 16 hours, 19 minutes, and 5 seconds, and promptly went to the bathroom, where I sat down for quite a while, then stood in the warm shower for quite a while, then lay on the floor for quite a while, before I finally got a ride back to Sam’s house to properly change clothes and sleep. The volunteers were very helpful after the race in finding me towels, drying my running clothes, and finding me extra clothes to wear on the trip to Sam’s house. After a nap and a chat with Nick, who returned to Sam’s house after dropping out of the race at 75 miles, we went back to the starting line to cheer on the runners who were finishing around the 24-hour mark, and to pick up my check and take a photo with Jody Chesko, who had donated the prize money in memory of Timothy Chesko, and Sam, who also finished the 100-mile race. After some random, misguided wandering that was the product of unclear thought due to exhaustion, I finally began the 7-hour drive home, by myself, which turned into a 9-hour drive, putting me at home at midnight, which allowed me to get to bed by 1, so that I could wake up at 6 a.m. for work the next morning. The brightest spot on the otherwise very dark drive home was the SuperSonic Breakfast Burrito that I ate at a Sonic in Harrisburg. The next morning, I went back to work, and “real life,” as it were, in “hard-marathon-sore” state. All in all, life was good.

I’ve since returned to my typical training schedule, without any days off as a result of the race, which means that I accomplished all of my goals for this race. Next stop: the Grindstone 100.