As I’d mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve been ramping up for the Razorback Endurance Race (by ramping up, I mean doing one long run after my last marathon and then extending my taper into the race. So actually, what’s the opposite of ramping up?). And as I’d hinted at in the dramatic, climactic cliff-hanger at the end of my last blog post, I decided to up my distance from 50 miles to 100k. There were various reasons for this and I’ll quick hit them now:
Pros for 100k vs. 50 miles
- I mean, it’s only another 10 miles. Who can’t run another 10 miles?
- I’d already run 52.5 at last year’s 24 hour run for Cancer. Why do another ultra that covers less mileage than what I did last year? Onward and upward people
- Running 100k let’s you talk in metric. Talking in metric makes you sound like a serious person
- The belt buckle
Cons for 100k vs. 50 miles
- While running 10 additional miles seem like a reasonable thing to do, it’s unequivocally the last 10 miles you’re adding, not the first ten miles. As such, these will be the 10 hardest miles, almost certainly harder than any miles I’d run in my entire life
- Awesome Wife Kelly gets really bored sitting around at races all day. And given the weather forecast, she gets cold and wet too
- I’d started negotiations with AWK at 50k. I’d upped to 50 miles. Upping again to 100k feels a bit mean. Then again, she is Awesome and she gets over these things
So there we have it, 100k it is.
Joining Kelly and me were my folks, Maralyn and Jerold, and Kelly’s mother, Jean. I couldn’t pick a better troop to sit around bored all day while I ran in a circle. Okay, kidding aside: knowing that people cared enough to drive great distances, spend hard earned money and waste a weekend sitting around and watching me gimp around a track is an incredible motivator. Obviously I can’t wimp out and disappoint these good people. Mom, Dad, Jean and AWK you made much more of a difference than you know.
As I outlined previously, this is a pretty cool race. Race Director Tracy is a ball of exuberance and her (and that of her awesome volunteers) radical dedication and infectious excitement rub off on all of the participants. This race is unique in that it offers all distances as well as multiple track options – from 13 miles through 72 hours on a paved 2 miler or a hilly ~5 mile trail. About
100 hardy souls participated and the varying speeds (I mean folks at the tail end of a 72 hour race don’t run/walk, but hobble/crawl) and multiple, but intersecting paths meant that you overlap with everybody in the race at some point.
On one level this was a pretty straightforward race for me. I wasn’t as prepared as I’d like to be, so I started out pretty conservative, running 10 minute miles, then went to the 10 on 2 off run/walk at 10/15 pace and gradually upped the walking over the course of the day. I had some peaks and valleys, but felt pretty good overall, hit my stride after mile 30, came down a bit during a two hour rain storm, then caught a second wind and finished miles 46-62 pretty strong.
Ultrarunners are very fond of saying “it’s all mental” in 50 different ways.
- “It’s not how tough you are physically but how tough you are mentally.”
- “Your mind will quit before your body quits.”
- “Don’t let your brain convince your body to give in.”
This makes sense on some abstract level. Kind of like it makes sense that Antarctica is cold. I have some vague idea of it, but I’ve never actually had frostbite. I knew that mental toughness was important, but I’ve never really dealt with that. In marathons I run as hard as I can until my muscles wear out and I can’t physically keep up the pace. That’s not mental, that’s physical. Ultras are different, as I learned at Razorback.
- I’ve run 20+ miles probably 30-40 times in my life. I’ve never run 20 miles more slowly than I ran them on Saturday. Just a month ago I’d run 20 miles at a ~7:45 pace, so I know I’m in shape. Yet after just 22 ~12 minute miles atRazorback I was worn out, in pain, nauseous and a bit lost. There was absolutely zero physical reason for this and the only way I can explain it is that my mind was thinking about 62 miles and messing with my body. The platitudes came home. A few high caffeine Gus and some spirited cheers from my fan club helped me get through it and mile 22 proved to be the nadir of the race. At mile 60 I was running stronger and feeling better than I had just 4 hours into the race. If that’s not a mental situation I don’t know what is
- We all play mind games in races, trying to psyche ourselves out and find the energy/edge to push harder. Looped races provide an opportunity for a great one of these: every loop you see people laboring and struggling and you feel a bit better about yourself and your troubles (even if you feel guilty about this source of motivation / energy). Sure, I’m hurting, but that guy is really messed up. Don’t get me wrong, you’re cheering for the guy and want him to succeed, but it also makes you feel a little bit less terrible about your own predicament. This is a very dangerous mentality atRazorback. Several times I started to feel pretty good about myself in a relative sense, only to catch up with somesad looking person, chat with him and find out he’s in the 72 hour category. So yeah, I do look better than him. But then again, he had been running for 48 hours before I even got into the game. All things considered, I didn’t really look that much better than him…
- There was so much experience and running wisdom running on that course. I randomly chatted up somehard core looking dude about halfway through the race and got the best piece of running advice I have ever received, “This sport is all about how you recover”. Wow, that’s true. At one point or another every ultra runner is going to hit a low. If things just got inexorably worse, nobody would be able to make it through these things. Because you’re running slow and can rest as needed, your performance, energy and attitude go in waves. At mile 22 I thought I was going to throw up. On-coming rain at mile 44 drove me to a low where I thought I’d be walking or crawling the remaining miles. By mile 50 I was cruising at about a 50/50 run walk that I maintained for the next 12 miles. I finished strong, feeling great and convinced I could crank out a bunch more miles without too much issue. It’s not about how good you feel at any given point. You will crash and it’s all about how you recover. Thank you anonymous stranger for pointing that out
So there you go, those are the highlights. Before I sign off from this blog post (and if you’re still reading…) let me share a couple of other thoughts:
- My folks are the best. Jean too. Thanks for coming, thanks for the enthusiasm. It meant a lot to me and to AWK
- I didn’t even mention AWK in the prior paragraph because she’s set the bar so high it’s just damn hard to surpass it. And yet she always does
- It was really fun to say outlandish things to my non-running parents like “Only one more marathon to go, I’ve got this in the bag.” I think they suspected all along that it was simple bravado, but it felt kind of cool at the time.
- Why is mid-run pizza the best food in the world? I don’t mean the best thing you can eat at the time. I mean that if I had to weigh the Dominoes pizza I had at mile 30 against the fanciest, most expensive meal I’ve ever had, the Dominoes wins every damn time. That pizza was donated by a former runner who couldn’t participate. Thank you for your thought and effort, it was appreciated
- THERE WERE NO DAMN PIGS. The race was called the Razorback Endurance Race after feral pigs that root around the area. There are pigs on the shirt. The medal is in the shape of a pig. I had been promised (well, no, not technically promised) feral pigs and I got no pigs. This was upsetting to me and crushing to AWK (the cows helped ease some of the pain though)
- I can’t emphasize this enough – the Razorback organizers and volunteers were absolutely top notch. Logistics were seamless, there was tons of great food and their enthusiasm and good cheer was contagious. If you ever get the chance to do one of Tracy’s races do it
So there you go, great people, a great course and a hell of a race. Thanks everybody for making the Razorback Endurance Race 2015 such a wonderful event.
UPDATE: In a fun, surprise twist, I actually placed second in the 100k! Okay, so it was a very small race and many of the competitors were running the much harder trail loop (lots more elevation), but I’m looking at the big picture here. On my tombstone it will say “2nd place finisher in the 2015 Razorback Endurance Race 100k.” No footnotes allowed.