Saturday, October 9, 2010

Lean Horse Hundred by Eric Fritz

First an apology... this is painfully long, but I'm not really a writer and hey, 100 miles is a long way...

About 5 years ago a friend of mine told me he ran a local race here in Huntsville that was a 50K. At the time I had only run a 10K or two and was completely dumbfounded at such a thought. Why would anyone in their right mind do such a thing. Well, it was only a bit more than a year later and I followed suit and ran that same race (Mountain Mist, great race BTW). What a great way to spend a day, just running through the woods. I was hooked. So as the years progress I ran more and more 50K races, but then early last year I started thinking I’d like to do something more. Well fast forward a year and a half and here I stand. 6:00am in Hot Springs, SD in the dim light of dawn about to go for the run of my life (so far). Here’s how I spent my day…

The plan
Well, in all the hours of training on the road with different friends, one thing stuck out in my mind when planning this thing. A comment from local running legend Dink Taylor, implied the possibly there may be some correlation between your 5k PR and your 100 mile PR. I know, this follows no real logic, but I did a bit of research (e.g. asking friends) and like the infamous Yasso 800's rule, it seems to work more often than not. So with this silly logic in my head, I take my recently achieved goal to break the 20 min 5k barrier and immediately extend this to set my A goal to break the 20 hour mark. So, 19:54 is set as my A goal. My B goal I set at 23:30 because, I deep down I really want that sub 24 hour buckle and the C goal, well it's obviously anything less than 30 hours. Gotta finish! So I take this and add in the experience of my friend Rob Youngren who implies that the second 50 miles should be about 1:30 to 2 hours slower than the first 50 and come up with a pacing plan that should possibly get me through this thing. So for my A plan, my first 50 should be in 9:10 and the second 50 in 10:45. That's 11 min/mile for the first half and just under 13 min/mile for the second. Should be a piece of cake right... yeah right.

Lots of fun getting to South Dakota with friends and then driving down from Rapid City to Hot Springs. Sights to see like Mt. Rushmore and the beautiful Black Hills. We end up driving along a fair amount of the course or at least the roads nearby it. As we’re driving along, I decide to break out the Garmin and check the elevations, the high point seemed to be right at the Crazy Horse monument around 6000’ and steadily dropped down to the little town of Custer. We follow the course along the gravel road section and even drive up to the reservoir close to the start. Nothing looks too difficult (except that reservoir climb) from the car so I’m feeling pretty good. Check into the hotel, walk over to packet pickup and grab a bite to eat. Just basically lounge around all evening to try and settle the nerves before the race. All you really want is for time to fly by so you can just get started. Finally time to go to bed, set out everything for the next morning and all is a go. The only thing I’m missing is my Garmin as I left it in the car and I don’t want to bother Sarah at this point to get the keys. No worries, I only used it briefly and it won’t last the whole race anyway. It was more just to keep me on track for some of the early miles. Morning comes, and I’m all set to go. Get the keys to get my Garmin only to find… batteries are low. So, it looks like I’ll be running blind as far as pace goes. Oh well, I brush it off and we head to the start across the street.

The race:
It all started out pretty well. I ran with the pack through town, nothing fast, nothing slow. To be honest, I really wanted to go out a bit fast as that is typically my M.O. and I suppose I did but with no Garmin, it was hard to tell. I kept Blake, Rob and Kathy in sight (though at a fair distance) through most of the first 5 miles at least so it must have been somewhat fast. Running through the small town of Hot Springs, SD was adrenaline filled. So much is on your mind but you can’t really focus on any of it. You just run. We run right by the prettiest point in town where a waterfall drops down a cliff on your left and flows across the trail into the stream on your right. (Completely fabricated IMHO but nice nonetheless) Here there is a photographer taking pictures of us on the path. I smile and give him a thumbs up... he ignores me and doesn't take my picture. Hmmm. Continuing on, we make through the heart of the town and start to leave by some residential streets on our way to the Coldbrook reservoir.

One thing that I realized much later is that even though runners of different races (50K, 50Mile, 100Mile) were wearing different # series of bibs, you don't really notice it as much as you think. I remember noting that the second female in the 50mile (behind Kathy) was with up the hill to the reservoir but there were numerous other runners around me and it wasn't until much later that I realized they were only running one of the 50 distances.

So, I continued to push it a bit, running some of the uphill to the reservoir but with the terrain the way it was (fair amount of uphill) my pace would definitely not show that I was moving fast. Anyway, finally we get to the top of the hill and start running down the back side to the campground by the lake. I remember someone asking me if there were bathrooms at the first aid station. Having scouted out this part of the route the day before I let him know there were and watched him fly by me only to disappear into one of the bathrooms 5 mins ahead, glad to not have that issue myself.

Just past the campground is the first aid station at around 4 miles. By this point I have already pretty much drained my bottle so I fill it up. (It was a bit frustrating as I have to do it myself from the spigot of a cooler, but I’ve got all day and they were nice otherwise.) Leaving, I grabbed a handful of trail mix from the table out of a big bowl and all I can think of is another blogger's comment I heard about in the past referencing "ass lube chips" (yes, that is as disgusting as you think it is)

After the aid station we continue through a field on a grassy road. (there are some dirt ruts, but it is obviously very infrequently traveled) It runs between high grass meadows on both sides with a bit of a rocky wall. Really nice, I think to myself. Unfortunately, this stretch only lasts about 3/4 of a mile and then we’re dumped on what will forever be remembered as the nightmare that is "Argyle Rd". This road was nice enough on the surface, but just NOT nice enough to make itself infamous. It starts with a 2 mile uphill that is completely deceiving. One of those hills that you keep thinking you’re going to get to the summit only to find that when you get there, it just keeps on going. I run as much as I can and finally make it to the top. Along the way I keep getting passed by what I believe are other 100 mile runners. I also believe that most of their bibs seem to have green stickers (green stickers indicate first time 100 runners). This both disheartens me as I’m getting passed up but also scares me a bit. Am I running too slow? Or are they all really just a bunch of first timers going to fast out of the gate... who knows... I just keep trying to do my thing.
Somewhere around here, Joey Butler catches up to me and we run together. I was surprised to see him as Joey has had a tendency to start very slow and pace himself very well in all our training, but I'm glad to have the company. We continue along this nasty rolling gravel road for a few miles enjoying having someone to talk to. Soon though he insists that I'm on the verge of leaving him and that I need to just go ahead. I felt he was running well but he forces the issue by starting to walk. Oh well, not too happy to start out on my own again, I lower my head and press on while he takes it easy.

After a while, I finally start to recognize the turns, indicating that we're getting close to the Mickelson Trail and the location of the first drop bags when I notice what I think is Rob Youngren ahead. I can't really believe it could be him as he is quite a better runner than I. As I get a bit closer I decide that it really is him so I do what I can to try and catch up to him, hoping for more company. I run along with him listening to him chat with Stan Ferguson (Race Director for Arkansas Traveller 100) and just wondering to myself why the two of them are running back here with a newbie like me. (it never really crossed my mind to think that they were being a bit smarter about things than I. Ignorance is bliss I suppose). Finally we pull in to the Argyle Loop aid station and put the nasty gravel road behind us.
Up to this point I have been deliberately running a bit fast as I started the day without putting on any sunscreen. I knew that I put some in my drop bag and although it was still nice out, the sun was up and penetrating. The sun was my biggest concern going into this race and I knew that if I got sunburned, it was going to be a long painful day. Well anyway, after rummaging through my bag, I realize that based on my time estimates, I was supposed to arrive at the next drop bag around 10:30 or so and figured I didn't need sunscreen until after 10am. Disheartened, at no suntan lotion, I just grab my next set of nutrition and get on my way. Rob and Stan were already out of the station before me but I catch them quickly. They seem to be having a good old time chatting away so I just run on by a bit stunned that I'm ahead of a couple of previous Grand Slam finishers.

The Mickelson Trail is about as cupcake of a trail that you will ever see. It is a rails to trails project so minimal grades on all hills and those that built it really made a nice trail. It consists of very small shale type gravel, hard packed into the ground so there is absolutely no chance for tripping anywhere (except for maybe the occasional bridge) This run is going to be a piece of cake right!? Hmmm.
Well, it takes no time at all on this well manicured trail before I start to really feel the scourge of the day... rocks in my shoes. I didn't realize yet how bad I would hate them, but hate them I did. I decide to take a break on the split rail fence lining the trail and dump out my shoes. This turns out to be a regular occurrence throughout the run as my feet seem to be a magnet for crud. Next time I think I really will investigate some gaiters. At least this section is slightly downhill so the going is easy.
Over the next 4 miles I start thinking about my parents and where they might be, you see they were driving back from California to Maryland and had recently stopped at Yellowstone Nat'l Park. I had spoken to them a couple days before and they indicated that they may swing by and say hi along the trail, but as soon as we got close to the race's host city, ATT disappeared completely from its usual spotty coverage so I had no real clue what their plans really were. Anyway, the Mickelson Trail travels very close to the main road on and off, so I started looking around to see if they may be out there. I run through the next aid station, only stopping to refill my bottle and grab whatever is convenient to eat.
The next stretch is the first real stretch where you are away from civilization for a while. It's very nice countryside and I enjoy the peace and quiet. There are still numerous people in sight but no one real close so I let my mind wander and just cruise along. In a little while I see Kathy Youngren, cruising along on her way back from the 50mile turnaround. Her words of encouragement... "What the hell Fritz, you better slow down!". I laugh and explain that it's my plan to crash and burn (joking of course).
Coming into the next aid station (Pringle) there is still quite the crowd. The race is early and both the 50K and 50 Milers are still in the pack and all the fans are clapping for everyone who comes by so you feel a bit like a rock star. I make my way past the crowd looking to get to my drop bag when all of a sudden I hear "Hello Eric" and there's my Mom smiling at me. I walked right past her. Well, even though I was thinking about them earlier, I'm a bit shocked that they actually showed up. Seems they had been planning on showing up all the time, but not really coming forth with it to try and not disturb my pre-race rituals (e.g. not add to my stress). It was nice to have them there, my Dad had already found my drop bag and had it ready for me. As mentioned above, I've been stressing about the sun for a while now and am happy to finally get my suntan lotion put on. It's even nicer that Mom and Dad can help spray it on my back. Well, I change my socks, change my shirt (from singlet to short sleeves... more paranoia of the sun), grab a fair amount of food (grapes, chips, ham sandwich) and am on my way again. Mom and Dad say they'll see me down the road.

At this point I'm about 15 mins ahead of my 'A' goal so I am feeling pretty good. The next stretch is difficult though, slightly uphill and the sun is blazing. About 4+ miles in, I see a nice rest area on the side of the road and lots of cars. Expecting another aid station I down my bottle, only to find out that there is no aid station. I suffer wondering what the heck is up for at least anther 2 miles but with no water it feels like at least another 4 miles. Strike two for not having my Garmin with me. Along this stretch while I'm suffering, I'm passed by a couple of females, whom I assume are the leading females of the 100 mile run, that’s to be expected as I typically run shortly behind the leading females in most races. Finally, I make it to the next aid station and hang out for a while trying to recover from being dry for a while. No Mom and Dad here as they must have moved on to the next drop bag stop. Shortly after the aid station, I notice that one of the females has turned around for the 50k, Bernita Lovelace from Arkansas. She is quite excited to get what I believe is her first 'W'. The other female turns out to be well known ultra runner Anita Fromm and she steadily pulls away from me over the next several miles to where I don't expect to ever see her again.

I'm struggling at this point as the sun takes its toll on me and the uphill continues. Finally I get a bit of downhill as we head into the town of Custer and the next major aid station. Coming in, I see my Dad, camera clicking. This will become a familiar sight as the day progresses. Another change of socks as the rocks are taking their toll on my feet (feels great for at least 5 minutes). More food stuffed in, sandwich, banana etc. But for some reason I can't bring myself to eat one of the many homemade cookies I've seen at all the aid stations. They look awesome, but just don't seem to be what I want to put in my belly. I'm 35+ miles in at this point and struggling. I've gone from 15mins ahead at the last drop bag to 15 mins behind at this one. I better pick it up if I really want that A goal…

This is a fairly major drop bag and one of the prizes inside is my MP3 player. I put this on and get back on my way. About 12Gb of my music on shuffle keeps me going through the next section. The crowd has really thinned out since we passed the 50K finish and I only see a runner or 2 for several miles. This is a good thing as I sometimes slip into singing out loud and dancing while I run. (well, not dancing I suppose but some crazy arm motions with the music. I’m glad I couldn’t see myself) At one point I realize that the music is too loud as I hear what I think might have been a gun shot. I'm in another countryside section away from the road and have no clue what may be going on but I immediately yank off the headphones only to find that everything seems fine. In hindsight, I think it may have been some sort of blip on the mp3 player but it definitely gets my heart racing for a bit. Onward I go, only to realize that the next section is a long, long uphill climb. At least I've got my music and the countryside is beautiful here as I approach the Crazy Horse monument and highest point on the course.

Finally I come into the next aid station and there is Mom and Dad once again. At the last aid station I asked for some ice and put it both in my bottle and in my cap to try and help with the heat. This really helped a lot and more importantly my Mom took notice. At each aid station from here on out she is waiting to fill my bottle with ice and water and have an additional cup of ice water waiting. Sure is nice to have a crew, especially when you weren't expecting one. Well I move along still behind in pace, still struggling but looming to my right is the massive Crazy Horse monument and just ahead is a downhill stretch so my spirits are good. Little did I know that my mind would wander on that downhill and start taking a mental toll. It turns out that about the last 9 miles before the turnaround at 50 is all downhill and some of the most significant grade since Argyle Rd back at the start. All I can think of for that 9 miles is that I'm going to have to turn around and climb back up. That along with the general wear and tear on my body has me coming into the turnaround feeling pretty worn out. But a few miles before I get there I do pass Blake Thompson. I figure he's about 8 miles ahead of me at that point. He's looking in great spirits but wants to know where Rob is. Haven't seen him since 24 miles is all I can say. My goal for the turnaround was 9:10 and I come in at 9:35. I feel that there is no way I'm going to make my A goal of sub 20 hours so I start telling myself I can walk the whole way back and still make the B goal of sub 24... we'll see.

The Buckaroo aid station is only a bit less than a mile from the turnaround so I blow straight through it on the way out. As I touch the fence and turn around I start to walk, thinking I'll walk the whole way back to the aid station for a break. Unfortunately (or fortunately...) I end up behind a young man on a bike riding very slow and smoking a cigarette. Well walking is not going to get me away from him and the smoke is the last thing I want to smell right now so eventually I give in and start to run again to get past.
At the Buckaroo aid station I sit for a while and rest. I get my parents to get me extra water as I change my socks once again and wash off my legs and feet. It's amazing how much crude is on them (including plenty of salt) and it feels great to wash it off.

After my rest I'm back on my way, somehow starting to feel better. Unfortunately though, 50 miles and that last long downhill have my quads burning. I continue along in my hundred miler running form and avoid any extended steps. Shortly I come across Rob running all along. He seems in good spirits but indicates that the sun took a major toll on him mid day. I let him know my plan is to walk the rest of the way and do just enough to break 24. He agrees with my plan and we continue on our opposite ways. Silently I start to try and do the math in my head of exactly what it will take to make it in under 24 hours but my brain is fried so the next time the road is close I put the task to my Dad. When he comes back and says it will take 15 minute miles, I know I've got to start actually running. I can walk 17 min miles when I'm going at a half decent pace and I'm sure I'd slow down more than that with so many miles under my belt. Soon I come upon Joey Butler. I haven't seen him in quite some time and he's probably about 8 miles behind me but he seems in fairly good shape. The afternoon has started to wane a bit with the sun behind clouds and it seems to be helping people out. (myself included)

After I pass Joey, I decide to get my hundred shuffle going and cruise along a nice section by a creek only to come upon a snake skittering across the trail. Well I wasn't paying attention real well and almost stepped on it, only to leap at the last second. I miss the snake and it is gone before I know it but my 3 foot leap feels like I pulled several muscles in my legs. I begin to limp along. Fortunately it is not nearly as bad as I thought and I can resume my shuffle fairly soon. I really start to feel much better for some reason (I think it may be the sun hiding on me and the repeated "ice in my hat" treatments) and end up moving pretty well up the 9 mile climb. I actually run the majority of it (well run is a strong word... it's still the shuffle). When I enter the small tunnel at the top by Crazy Horse I let out a yell of conquest and enjoy the echo. On the other side, the trail levels and I see my parents in the distance camera and ice water at the ready. I hit the next aid station with my spirits really picking up as I realize that I've got a long downhill to get me to about 2/3rds done. More water, more chips, more grapes etc. and I'm on my way again. The next stretch is just as beautiful on the way back as it was on the way out. Deer are starting to show up in every meadow I pass and I see a large number of Turkeys or Pheasants, not sure which but it's nice to see some wildlife beyond the stray squirrel or chipmunk.

Coming back into Custer, I'm running pretty well and I see two young ladies waking towards me on the trail. They turn out to be Kathy and Sarah looking out for me. I'm excited to see them and stop to walk with them for the remaining stretch into the aid station. There amazed to hear that my parents are here. After short introductions, I sit down again and Kathy gets me some soup. Tomato soup seems to be my food of choice for the remainder of the day as nothing, especially all my gels and blocks, looks good to me anymore. I sit for a bit at a picnic table and rest, I think I change my socks again, but perhaps it is just dumping the rocks out for what seems the 10th time of the day.

Back on the trail after my rest and all of a sudden the rain starts to come. It's not a heavy rain but a steady drizzle, but it doesn't seem to bother me, my spirits are good and I plod along. Ever since the turnaround at 50 I've been telling myself that I need to run some now and then and can't just walk. This seems to keep me moving even though by this point I'm probably past the point where I really could walk it in. My mind is moving too slow to realize that, so I continue to push myself whenever I can. With the rain and dusk falling, the longer stretch that was such a killer earlier that afternoon goes by smoothly. In the distance to the southeast (I'm heading generally due south) a thunderstorm is lighting up the sky in quite the display. I enjoy the show, but am a bit concerned as to which way the storm is moving. If it is coming towards me, I'm a lone figure sticking out in the fields and prime target for a bolt of lightning. Fortunately, after what seems an hour I realize that the storm is not coming any closer and eventually realize it is moving further to the southeast so I rest my mind.. As dusk turns to dark, I continue to run with no headlamp for as long as possible. There is a recent full moon up in the sky to light things up, but it only shows itself occasionally with the clouds in the way. Nevertheless I continue to run without my headlamp until I approach the 75 mile mark. At this point I kick a couple of somewhat large stones (smaller than my fist I'm sure) and decide that it may be wise to light up. There is a lengthy stretch where the trail is virtually the shoulder of the road but in the dark you would never know it. I probably only see 2 cars for this stretch that remind me I'm so close to civilization.

I really have little memory of the aid station at Pringle (76) and Lime Kiln Road (80) other than a vague visual of the layout. I've no idea what I took in there if anything. I do know that at this point I'm ignoring all drop bags. I've still got plenty of Gu’s and Clif Shot Block’s still in my pack as my eating has really slowed down. Skipping my drop bags though turns out to be a bit of a mistake as I forget that I've got Boost in them ready for me to drink, but at the time, I'm none the wiser. Somewhere around Pringle, I realize that I'm passing Stan. I don't know Stan that well but know him well enough to know that he's a much better runner than me. This boosts my spirits and keeps me going. (ignoring the fact that he recently ran Hard Rock and this is probably a cool down run for him).

Finally I find myself coming into the Argyle Road aid station. Here I pass Anita Fromm, the lead woman. I’m not sure if it is the fact that maybe I’m not going to get chicked or just the fact that I’m only 16 miles from the finish but I am excited to be at that point.

Here I walk with my Mom and Dad for a bit and we chat. Mom is quite amazed that I'm still moving so well. Unfortunately, the next stretch is brutal as I leave the low grade of the rails to trails and head back on to Argyle Rd and it's rolling hills. Running has become a real struggle as my quads are burning and my feet feel like I'm running on glass. One good thing is that although the rain has stopped, it soaked the ground enough that Mom and Dad can ride along the dirt road and keep an eye on me without kicking up any dust. At one point I'm passed by a couple runners moving at a good clip. The first one blows on by telling me to keep it up, "let's shoot for sub 20" I reply back that there’s no way that's going to happen and slow to a walk again. When the next runner comes by, he explains that he's just the pacer and he’s struggling to keep up with his runner. I chuckle a bit and let them go. It's only a few miles down the road and I see the runner limping along. Seems his knee has given out on him and he's going to walk it in. A bit later I pass another runner grabbing his lower back as he walks it in. I feel blessed to still be running and only suffering from sore muscles and rocks in my shoes.

When I finally get to the turn off of Argyle Rd into the meadow, I just yell at my dad that I'll see them at the finish line. The last aid station is only a 1/2 mile down the trail. This section is still a very nice section in the middle of the night but I feel my mind fixating on the rocks in my shoes. I keep telling myself that there is only 4 miles left to go and I should just run through the last aid station, but when I get there I succumb to the pain and sit down only to dump out the rocks one last time. I continue out of the aid station strong only to begin my walk very shortly as the big climb up from the reservoir looms ahead.

Somehow the climb seems to go fairly quickly and I continue on at the top on the dirt road. Unfortunately, it looks very different at night and I continually second guess myself that I may have missed a turn. I continue to move forward, but I'm moving slow as I look at the other roads around me for something familiar. Finally I see the spillway and realize that I'm on the right path and start to jog again. When I finally hit the big downhill to town and the dirt road turns to pavement I jump for joy. Well not literally, but never before have I been so excited to see an asphalt road. No more chance of small rocks in my shoes, ahhh.

As I continue down the hill and hit the edge of town I see a party rocking, playing volleyball, drinks flowing. Sure would be nice to stop there but I'm close. I press on telling myself that I can run in from here, it's only about 2 miles to go… but just a block or so down the road, I decide I'm tired and start to walk. After a break I pick it up again as I hit the main drag in town, once again my mind says I can run it in, and once again I start to walk shortly after. This happens one more time on the road into the finish but finally I see the Dairy Queen in the distance and force myself to run all the way in. When I get to the finish, it’s 2:30 in the morning and there is not much going on. No fanfare, no excitement just a couple of volunteers recording the time. Well my Mom and Dad are there of course and there is no real need for fanfare, I’m so excited inside that nothing can keep me down. Except the fact that I just ran 100 miles and I’m beat. So I sit for a bit, lose my lunch and then decide to take a shower. After a brief cleanup, it’s straight to bed for me. You’d like to think I sat there and had great reflections on what a great day it’s been or what a great accomplishment, but no, I’m just beat, tired and worn out and want to pass out in a corner somewhere. But I did run 100 miles, so I got that going for me.

The nutrition
Well, nutrition plans are something I struggle with in a half marathon, planning one for a 100 really scares me and I ended up changing my plan many times. As it turns out, I end up with 1 Gu Energy Gel and 1 Clif Shot Block every hour, a Boost Nutritional Drink about every 3 hours, a Nuun tablet in every other bottle of water (using the standard 20oz of water every hour) and one Succeed S!Cap every hour. Add up all the totals and this gives me 263 calories, 674 grams of sodium and a bit of potassium and carbohydrates thrown in every hour. The electrolytes look good but the calorie intake will have to be more. I plan on beefing that up by grazing heavily at aid stations as much as I can. That's a lot to keep up with for 24 hours but hey, what else do I have to think about right? One thing to note is that I've been forewarned, and know somewhat from shorter races, that keeping your stomach happy during the run is one of the most difficult things to do. Plans are nice but 50 miles in your mind starts revolting and nothing looks good, sounds good or otherwise easily goes in your belly. Hence, the plan started to fade off sometime after 50 miles and really disappeared after about 75. Fortunately, eating a lot early on seemed to be enough to carry me to the end.

The equipment
As it is a summer race, there is not much in terms of equipment to rely on. I ran the whole way in my Nike Lunar Glides only taking them off to dump out the rocks (a million times) and change my socks occasionally. The only other significant equipment was my CWX compression shorts. I never had any real equipment issues to speak of.

A bit of thanks
I can’t finish this without a serious thank you to several people. All those that went with me for sure, and particularly my Mom and Dad who stayed up all night to crew me only to get on the road at 7 in the morning and head east. (guess there’s some endurance in the genes). But you can’t do 100 miles without some serious training and I really need to thank Rob, Kathy, Blake and Joey for keeping me going through all those long runs. And Rob and Kathy’s wealth of experience were invaluable to get me through this. And lastly, I want to thank David Horton who once said, “Some will say, you’re not a real ultra runner until you’ve run a hundred.” Well, now I’m a real ultrarunner.