Sunday, June 26, 2011

2011 Old Dominion 100 race report

I’ve had 3 weeks now to mull over the race, and still have people asking where my report is. So here is a brief summary of the race, some thoughts, and some pictures.


"I went to the well, and the well was dry."

-Scott Jurek, after 2009 Western States 100 DNF at mile 48

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Barry and I drove 7 hrs to Woodstock on Friday. Met Eric Grossman and talked to Neal for a while. Felt pretty good, and actually slept 3 or 4 hours. Mixed feelings on the starting line- excited to finally be going, but for some reason I never felt as confident at this one as previous ultras. But I felt fit and was determined to compete for a top 3 spot. The first climb and descent went quickly as I chatted with nearby runners in the dark. The race is 60% gravel road, 40% singletrack, but the singletrack is generally pretty technical and sometimes brutal. The Boyer singletrack was a nice wakeup after some fast road miles. Pulled into the first major aid (mile 19.6) at the end of a train of the first 7 or so runners (Eric, Neal, , where I found Barry improvising as my drop bag wasn’t there yet. He did great and quickly got me on my way. My stomach got pretty unhappy around mile 25, and I almost puked a few times. Some walking and ginger drops brought it around within 5 miles, though I had lost precious time on the leaders and was about 6th place. Jon Loewus-Deitch ran side by side for awhile. A random car drove by and yelled, “Go Jon”- we were unable to determine who it was for, so decided they were cheering for both of us. Reached Four Points 1 (mile 32.6) at 4:39, 12 min ahead of schedule. Barry gave me a second water bottle, had me in and out, and onto the first tough section of the day.

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I did not particularly enjoy peach orchard. Ok, I hated it. There was a technical climb, where I kept leapfrogging David Ploskonka and was passed by Karsten Brown (putting me in 5th, with Neal and Eric in front), then a steep paved descent, followed by a very long, gradual, very rocky climb. The only break over almost 11 miles was one dirt biker who had some water in his pack for us. The trail was longer than expected and very rocky. Extremely rocky terrain tends to frustrate me, since I feel my leg speed is for naught. Plus the trail was exposed and it was getting hot. I finally reached the high point of the course and was again miffed by the extreme rockiness on the downhill (it was at this point that I resolved to never run MMT 100). Jon caught me again, though I quickly pulled away down the rocks. I finally reached the aid station where the weight check showed me .5 lb heavy (so well hydrated). The next 4.5 miles were a steady drop on gravel road, and it felt good to stretch my legs again. For a while- then the pounding hurt a bit, though I was still able to pass David and move into 4th. I earned my second star here and pulled into Four Points 2 (mile 47.7) at 11:20 am (7:20 race time), 3 minutes behind schedule. Barry put a handkerchief with ice under my visor (I may patent the Ice Visor- it was great), swapped bottles, and had me on the way.

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This is the trail. Honest. See the flag!?!

The ice on my head and in my bottles gave me energy to run most of the Moreland Gap uphill section, passing the 50 mile mark in 4th place and at 7:53. Other than a 3rd pit stop, I felt pretty good for a while and ran strong. I pulled into Edinburg gap (mile 56.6) at 8:50, still 3 minute behind schedule. Barry was ready for a shoe change, which only took 3 min (including washing my feet)- the aid volunteers commented on Barry’s efficiency. He told me I was 30 min behind Eric and Neal, but only 10 behind Karsten. Determined, I blazed out. Unfortunately, it would be my last blazing of the day. The trail was rocky, technical ATV trail that climbed 700 feet. By the top, I felt terrible. After 2 more pitstops and a water refill at a jug, I didn’t feel better. Instead I slowly walked downhill. My quads weren’t shot, and I was fine on hydration and calories, but I just felt terrible. Depleted. Tapped. I walked and walked, occasionally jogging for short spurts. The next 5 downhill miles were between 10-17 min pace and I was expecting the whole field to pass me. After what seemed like forever, Jeremy Pade flew by, asking to stop if there was anything he could do for me. Finally, I reached the aid station (mile 64.3) at 10:43. I had just lost 33 min in about 6 miles.

Barry went into overdrive. For the first time ever in a 100, I just sat down to rest. Collapsed, actually. Barry put bags of ice all over me and kept bringing me food and drink. 20 minutes later, he somehow talked me out of the chair and back onto the trail, side by side with Keith Knipling. After 10 min of walking, we reached the top of a long downhill. I started feeling a bit better and broke into a jog, soon pulling away from Keith. Then he passed as I had yet another pit stop (sign of internal distress?). I passed him back and started the long trail into Elizabeth Furnace at a trot. As the trail went on, I started feeling very bad again. Even worse than before. Keith flew by me as I walked down yet another hill, reassuring me Elizabeth Furnace aid (mile 75) was near. With my watch reading 13:15, I walked into the aid station, 75 minutes behind schedule. The past 18.4 miles had taken me 4:25 rather than the planned 3:08, a 41% slowdown.

I again collapsed, burying my head in my hands. I didn’t have the energy to do anything for a long time. Runners came and went- Jon Loewus-Deitch later asked me if I even knew he was there. Barry and the volunteers did their best to get me moving, with Barry particularly emphatic because he was supposed to pace me the next 12 miles over Sherman’s Gap. I pondered the situation in my head, aware that I could slowly walk the last 25 miles in what would likely be 7-8 hrs. However, I had shown up that day to compete for a win, not to limp in 4 hours behind my goal. And I had no desire to continue feeling the way I did for 25 more miles- completely tapped. My well was dry. 40 miles was a long way to slog rather than run. So I threw in the towel. Barry didn’t believe I was quitting until I actually stopped my watch at 14:15. I had covered 75 miles in 13:15 with about 9000 ft climbing.

I convinced Barry to go run the course while I got a ride to Veach West. I actually felt pretty good, walking around, talking to crews, hauling gear, etc. Barry finished the section and I had a “crew chair” set up for him, reversing our roles for the day. He was amazed at the number of rocks and thought running a 100 over them was nuts. We went to the hotel, slept, and attended the awards the next day (just for kicks). I was very excited to see that Neal had won- congrats. Then we drove home to our waiting families. On the good side, much like stopping a marathon at mile 20 instead of 26.2, I had very minimal soreness from my 75 mile jaunt.

Closing thoughts and lessons learned:

  • Do I wish I had finished? I’d be lying if I said no, though I’ve debated this endlessly and don’t think there is a “correct” answer. But I don’t think my weakness was in the DNF. Rather, I think my weakness was in not deciding ahead of time to finish. My only goal was a great time and competitive finish. Once that was gone, I had no desire to continue. Like I say, “go big or go home.” In retrospect, though, finishing is still important to me. A bit of a sore spot still.
  • Is there anything Barry or anyone else could have done to make me finish? No. They were amazing. And I didn’t quit on a whim. I weighed and decided, even knowing I would have a few regrets. I run because I enjoy it and for the challenge. That day, my body couldn’t give me the performance I wanted and I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. It isn’t near as much fun to run drastically slower than you are capable. During peak training, I abort about 1/3 of my Big Workouts because I just don’t have “it” that day. I have been very lucky in almost never having bad races. I wouldn’t say this was a terrible race- I just didn’t have “it” on a day I wanted to. Some may not understand this (like the incredulous volunteer at mile 75 as I DNF’ed while still top 10 and with 14 hours of race time remaining to travel 25 miles to the finish), but I think most of you do.
  • Will I run more races where I “go big or go home”? Will this result in more DNF’s? Probably yes. Maybe at UROC later this year. One self-observation is that I run within myself, perhaps too much. I run hard, but never push far outside what I know I can do. But, I’ve now reached the point where I want to find out just how fast I can be, how hard I can go, and how much I can hurt. I want to race against better competition and see what happens. Bigger reward, bigger risk. This was just the first. The DNF hurts, but I think this is a consequence of pushing harder. Hopefully I can have bigger success in the future, and maybe some more glorious flame-outs.
  • Do I think I was in great shape? Honestly, I think I was in better shape in April at SweetH20. I had a few good weeks since then, but think I had lost the razor edge of my fitness. I was in 90% shape, not 100%. The biggest weakness, though, was a lack of long training runs. I think I needed a few more 5-6 hr runs, plus at least one 50 mile race. I’ll have to incorporate more in my next pre-100 build up.
  • Will I run more 100’s? I would have said “no” for the first week, of course. And right now, I think I am better suited to 50k to 100k’s and will emphasize those more. I need more experience to rock at 100’s, which means running more 100’s. And I don’t run races for experience, I run them to race, which requires appropriate time and mileage. A big commitment. So, will I run more 100’s? I won’t do MMT or any “nutso technical/Hardrock-ish” 100 for now. I enjoy running fast too much, plus cannot currently train on sufficient technical trails to be prepared. But I’m already considering some for later this year or early next year. And, I’ve got a bone to pick with the Old Dominion course now. I don’t like anything getting the better of me, which it did. So, I’ll be very surprised if I don’t seek my revenge eventually. And next time, it’s for for keeps.