Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mother Road 100.3

This race report is somewhat unique for me. I generally write these reports to take the reader through the race milestone by milestone (luckily not mile by mile, as that might get a little long with a 100 mile race), hoping to give you a perspective of the race from a runners perspective as near to real-time as possible. The race, however was unlike all others for me in that I don't recall many milestones. So I am taking a different approach. What I set out below is my observations and feelings in black, and my crew chief and wife's observations and feelings in red. Here goes. So Scott and I are "tag teaming" the race report! Suffice it to say, I was very nervous when we were talking and planning for him to RACE a 100 miler. Finish a 100 miler? I can do that. Race one?

The Mother Road 100 has a brief but interesting history (and I believe this is all correct). Four years ago, race organizers put together a 100 mile ultramarathon to take place near the 80th (I think) anniversary of the opening of the Route 66 highway in Oklahoma. The race would run essentially from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, and was intended as a one time offering. But after much demand, organizers agreed to give it two more shots (with a year off in between). The 2nd running of the race would cover a southern route, while the third and final running would cover the northern route, from just inside Kansas at Baxter Springs, to Catoosa, Oklahoma, just outside Tulsa.

I entered the race some 5 months ago. I'd taken my training very seriously in hopes of laying down a personal best. This course, unlike other that I have run, was pancake flat (relatively speaking) and nearly all run on paved roads (that I knew would be fast, but painful). I had high hopes of beating my previous best of 17:27 (set last year at Heartland), and hoped to break 17 hours (for those who know me understand that I would still be proud of finishing, or finishing in under 24 hours, or even 20 hours, but I wanted to attempt something more on this occasion). And while "winning" wasn't really important to me, seeing that the previous two winners were all north of 17 hours, I thought a good sub 17-hour race just might be enough to cross the finish line first. But whether I finished first or fiftieth, I'd be very proud of a personal best and sub 17-hours. I knew Scott could improve on his 100 mile PR because I knew he had trained in a different way than he had in the past. I knew he was stronger from his cross-training and weight training. I knew he was faster from his intense shorter distance training. It all added up to so much excitement. In running there are thousands of runners but only one winner. I tried not to even fathom a "W" but knew it was completely possible

We arrived at the starting line in Baxter Springs very early, and in fact I was maybe one of the first couple of participants there. I had previously believe that the race would begin at 6 am, like most other 100's, but learned the week prior that in fact the race began at 9 am. While this detail doesn't seem too important, a 3 hour later start only means that you finish 3 hours later as well. With high hopes of 17 hour race, this means that I would finish at 2 am, instead of 11 pm. And if I was slower on the day then planned, a solid 20 hour finish would still cause me to run until nearly sunrise. This had me very nervous. I did NOT approve of the late start time. From a runners' safety perspective I wanted the runners through more miles before day time traffic. Alas, the foolish race directors had not contacted me for my expertise. They were, however, the most fun and hip ultra organizers I'd ever been around. Huge sound system blaring Lady Gaga, awesome signs for crew cars, great road signs so you could actually follow the course.

We milled around to kill time, and set out a crewing plan. Jennifer I believe was as nervous as I was. When the gun finally sounded, the runners were off. I could relax knowing that I was now "there" and Jennifer could travel on to the first stop and relax and wait. I was beyond nervous. I was a complete wreck inside, just trying to hold it together for Scott. I had crewed for 4 other 100 mile races for Scott. This was the race that I was MOST concerned about as it related to him causing himself an injury or going out so hard he couldn't even finish!

Within a mile I was on my own. I had settled into an 8:10 or so pace, which felt very comfortable. While there were a few runners in front of me, and several very nearby behind me, my race was about me and my pace. Even though some company would have been nice at least for a few miles, I was strictly following my own plan, pace and comfort.

This continued out of town and into Oklahoma. Nearing mile 5 I approached another runner, and enjoyed his company for about a mile. By the first aid station at mile 7, however, I was again alone. Being early and having sufficient supplies for the first 15 miles or so, I avoided stopping at the aid station, and merely said hello and goodbye to Jennifer who was there waiting. I took pictures of all or almost all the aid stations. We were in redneck land...no offense meant of course! But random diners and filling stations were the primary places we stopped. The locals did NOT know what to make of a bunch of crazy runners and their families coming through. But they were very welcoming and we had a good time together.

The next 7 miles seemed to be brutally windy, as the course headed largely west. I joined up with another runner for a few miles and enjoyed his company as well. But again by the next aid station (mile 13) I was alone. I met Jennifer briefly at the half-marathon mark for some Tylenol and some PowerGel, and a refill of fluids. In and out in a matter of less than a minute.

Miles 17 and 25 would come and go quickly. I would see Jennifer both times for bottle exchanges (now on my 5th 100 miler, we have a system. Its brilliant. Instead of taking the time to refill the bottles each time I stop, she just hands me two full ones and I give her whatever I have left. Rocket science.) I was in and out of mile 25 in around 3:35. A few minutes slower than I wanted, but still around 8:15 miles. And frankly, 3:30 was right on schedule so I couldn't complain. Off I went. We were definitely more efficient than we had EVER been during an ultra. It was sort of fun and I truly felt like a pit crew. I was changing out Scott's bottles and feeding him PB&J's like a pit crew changes tires and refills the tank!

At mile 34, I would begin feeling the warmth of the day. I had applied sunscreen prior, but the sun was beginning to beat down on me. I continued to drink heavily, and in fact grabbed a 3rd water bottle to make the next 9 miles. At this stop I would pass the second place runner. Not that it mattered, as a there was still 65 miles left in the race. I asked for all my Facebook friends to pray for cloud cover. Heat and sunshine are always the things that can kill an ultra-runner, especially Scott. I posted on Facebook throughout the day, where Scott was on the course, how he looked and other details. I cannot believe the outpouring of support, cheering, excitement, updates on college football (GO IRISH) and just flat out love the cyber world provided. We are very blessed to have such amazing friends and family.

After mile 35, things get fuzzy. My pace remained solid. While running I maintained an 8:30 min or greater mile, often finding comfort in a 7:45 or faster pace. I would walk some, but really kept pressing on trying not to walk more than ten or fifteen seconds every half miles or so. By mile 50 (total of 7:15) I was feeling pretty good, and my pace was dead on perfect to plan. Scott was obviously tearing up the course. His speed was almost other worldly. And it was the first time as a pit crew member that I had ever gone ahead to the next aid station, only to find it wasn't even set up yet. Several times through out the day, the race volunteers had not yet even set up their table with supplies for the runners when I arrived. Scott was running so fast, he was ahead of the race schedule. It was crazy and hilarious.
The next 7 miles or so were a bit scary, with dusk setting in and without a headlamp. These miles were also without a shoulder much of the time. My mind focus on simply surviving these miles. By mile 57, I was ready for some warmer clothes, a headlamp, some fluid refills, Tylenol and food. Jenn was there with all. The busy roads the race was ran on made me so nervous. I was literally nauseous from point to point until I got to see Scott again.

Now into the darkness, I covered the next 18 miles or so without slowing too much. I was continuously desperate for the pain in my feet to stop, and my knee was beginning to act up from the pavement and the ever so slight crown of the road. Around mile 67 we hit the Chelsea Motor Inn (yes, the aid station was in a motel room), and I used that stop to warm, and recover for a couple of minutes. I continued to eat my PowerGels, supplementing only with a PB&J here and there, maybe some crackers, and my Accelerade. On the upside, this was the best aid station ever. They took care of me here like I was runner. I was waited on hand and foot while the owner of the motel made me hot cocoa and bottled water. I was like 'no really' I'm not a runner, just a crew member! On the downside, Scott was starting to take a beating. We changed out shoes a couple times to try to ease the wear and tear on the feet. Scott's knees were getting the worst part of it and we luckily had an old knee support strap. It definitely helped him get through the race.

I hit a stop just slightly over 75 miles in good time (total time of around 11:25 or so for 75 miles). Jenn was getting nervous for me and my knee. I ate a bit of sandwich, but couldn't take much as I had just eaten another PowerGel (by the end of the day, I would ingest 18 gels total). I was again off. Best aid station EVER!!! The TATRS (Tulsa area trail runners) set up an aid station with smores, a campfire, food, Jimmy Hendrix and Christmas lights. Pretty fun to hang out at their campsite for sure! They were loving Scott and the race leader's times. Very very impressive.

Miles 75 to around 90ish are always tough on the psyche. The hours are drawing late, the legs are growing tired, and the desire to just be done is ever present. By mile 86 or so, my sister (surprise to me) and brother-in-law had joined Jennifer to watch the finish. It was honestly a great feeling to know they were there, and had driven nearly 2 hours on a late Saturday evening just to watch me run. I said a quick hello at the aid station, and moved on. I knew I was still running well, but my real fear was that 3rd place was running well also. And I had no idea what was going on ahead of me. Carrie and Terry drove down because they really wanted to see Scott finish. He was so excited and surprised by them showing up! It was fun for me too because I was able to have some company :)

I continued though the outskirts of town, trying to walk as little as possible. These were easily the toughest miles of the race. Still hours left of running, but yet so close. My feet were killing me and my knee was not having it. I just needed to get within striking distance of the finish(mentally, that is somewhere between 7-10 miles). I kept running hard. In my mind I was thinking, "I'm so close." But I also had the thoughts of "there is no way that guy is still on my heals behind me. I'm racking up miles too fast, but I can't shake him. And at the same time, who is this guy in front of me? I can't believe I'm not gaining on him." While I am not generally a competitive person, I will admit that at this stage in the race, my mind did shift over from "finish hard" to "run as fast as you frickin can and try to catch this guy in front of you." It was a bit surreal for me. I honestly wanted the best for the guy in front and behind me, I didn't want them to slow because I knew they were running times to be proud of. But could I just pick it up and run a bit faster, and while they don't slow I can still possibly take the lead? I took care of the race leader all day because that is what you do in an ultra, as a crew member, you take care of all runners. Yours and everyone else. The leader did not have any crew and most of the day, he just blew through the aid stations. At this point in the race though, the leader looked rough. He was starting to have a choppy stride. I offered him pretzels, water and Gatorade. He was getting less and less conversational. He had previously led Scott by 45 minutes but the lead was getting smaller.

At mile 93 I would hit the last aid station. By this time Jennifer had data. She knew how far the guy was in front of me, and knew I had created some distance between second and third. She knew I had 17 hours locked up and 16 was very much within reach. She told me that at the last stop, I was well over a half-hour behind, and now I was only barely 25 minutes behind. I was gaining ground, but there just might not be enough race left. But I felt good and up to the challenge. Could I kill the next 7 miles, improve my own time, and possibly have a shot at catching the leader? I could only know if I tried. At this point, the leader (his name was Tom) told me he was done! He was satisfied with second because he knew the "guy" behind him was going to catch him and pass him. I couldn't help it, I couldn't let him talk like this. I told him he needed to stay strong and positive. And unfortunately his did :)

I continued running at 8 min/miles while running, and walking only seconds here and there. I knew I had to be gaining ground, but I could have no idea of how much. I hit a stoplight with 2 miles to go (I knew very little about the course, but I did read a "warning" about this intersection with about 2 miles to go, so I fortunately knew where I was) and I began kicking in for the final pace. Oddly, I was still able to hydrate and eat. I popped my last gel of the day at around 97-98, hoping to full up before that final battle for first. In my mind, the only way I would ever catch this guy (even if he had slowed to nearly a walk) was in the last mile of the race. So I had been preparing myself for a final sprint out. Mile 99, yet no sight of first place. At mile 99.5, I would see the Hampton Inn and the stadium lights at the school where the race would finish. Still no sign of first place. I knew at the time I could choose to accept my position (I knew I had plenty of distance now before third), or I could expend that last burst I had been building for. I opted for the burst. With that half mile to go, I unloaded. 7:30 pace as I rounded into the parking lot and to the track for the last lap around the track and the finish. 7:00 pace, 6:30 pace, I suddenly felt like I was invincible. I rounded the final turn and headed down the straight away for the finish. 15:46:30. Second place, but only by 12 minutes (I had gained around 13 minutes in the past 7 miles). 9:27 average pace.

For the first time ever in finishing a 100 miler, I was disappointed it was over. Had this been a 110 mile race, I knew I had it in me. And I knew I had enough in me to finish those next miles strong and further gain ground on first place. But despite my reserved energy, the race was over. I could do nothing but smile. Tom, the winner, told me that if it had been a 105 mile race, he would have lost. We cheered him in to the finish and he pretty much collapsed. Scott raced in fresh as can be! It was an amazing sight. He came around the track like it was a speed workout, just sprinting in the last 1/4 mile. We just laughed at him as he crossed the finish line. He was unstoppable.

I could not have done this without Jennifer's support in training and along the way in the race. A crew is vitally important in a race like this. And an experienced and knowledgeable crew is something that can make a race. I owe a ton to Jennifer for getting me in and out of aid stations and keeping me going. She never let me drag. Thank you Jennifer. I'm getting pretty good at the pit crew gig. I should market and sell my services! Except truly I can only do this one or twice a year--too draining, physically and emotionally!. And frankly, it's pretty darn fun! I am so excited by Scott's race. I don't know how he will ever improve but I know he will. His time last year shocked me. His time this year...well I'm still in disbelief. All I know is the pride I feel cannot be described or quantified. His dedication, hard work and most importantly, his mental attitude make him unbeatable in my mind.


Hannah said...

Words cannot express how freaking incredible this is. The race report, what you accomplished, etc. I am so proud of both of you!

Indi said...

Congrats on a absolutely wonderful race!! Its amazing how much support crew is in making or breaking a race and its obvious you both make a fabulous team!!
Hannah's got herself a super coach for sure!

2 Slow 4 Boston said...

Congratulations Scott. Great post. Very impressive to run 100 miles at a faster pace than what most can run for a marathon. Maybe one day I'll get the desire/courage just to do a 50 mile ultra.

rob horton said...

Flipping amazing!!! Very inspiring!!! I hope to fly through a 100 like you some day bro!