Distance: 40 miles
Place: 1st overall
Pace: 8:13 minutes per mile
Date: Saturday, October 4
Location: Greensboro, NC
Temperature: 48 at start, 79 at finish
Bib Number: 142
Shoes: Adidas Adizero XT
The first ultra I ran was indeed the Triple Lakes Trail Race, and that was but one year ago. I learned many valuable lessons regarding fueling, pacing, walking, and crying. Last year, the wheels came off of the bus at mile 32. I finished in second place and was less than three minutes behind the first-place finisher; nonetheless it was a disappointing experience. Granted, the temperature was 85 at the start with 90% humidity… I finished the 2007 race in 5:46:00.
Running 29 miles solo gave me much time to think, mostly about what I was going to write about for this blog. Thus, thinking about this report helped me disassociate myself from the race!
My goal was to finish in 5:30:00 or less. My other goal was to stop at the aide stations to refuel, but to not walk any other part of the course.
My very first thought the night before the race was about my bib number: 142. Fourteen is my lucky number. Would the 2 mean second place yet again? I was obsessed with the number.
I wore the Adidas Adistar XT shoes yet another time (Umstead Marathon, Owl’s Roost Rumble Half Marathon, Twisted Ankle Marathon, Rattlesnake 50K Trail, and now this. I’ve officially retired this pair — and ordered a new pair just today!)
Start to mile 4
I spoke with Scott, the Race Director and co-owner (if I’m not mistaken) of Off N Running. ONR always does an incredible job with hosting races, and are always to be commended. This year was no exception. Scott did mention that he was thinking about not holding this race next year, and while I can’t say I blame him, giving the hours of preparation and the relatively low turnout, I hope the race continues next year and beyond.
The gun went off, and one of the marathon relay racers took off. I was in the front of the pack with Dan Williams (the eventual marathon winner), who I knew from some other races. He struck up a conversation, and as we were talking another man named Dan passed us. But not for long. When we caught up with him, he informed us that he had a bad case of poison ivy. On his ass. Twenty-six miles of scratching. Ouch. Dan W. and I quickly dropped him, too.
Dan mentioned that he had an uncanny ability to remember people’s faces and weights. He asked, “You’ve lost about 5 or 10 pounds, haven’t you?” Yes, I had lost weight since last year’s race. Ten pounds. Strange indeed.
Dan and I ran the first 4 miles together, talking the entire time. It certainly was nice to have the company! He’s a very nice young man, and a gifted runner.
As we approached mile 3, a man named Chris Foster caught up with us. We quickly dropped him (Dan picked up the pace). Dan stopped for Gatorade at mile 4, noticed Chris once again approaching, and quickly took off. I didn’t see him again.
Miles 4 to 11
I stopped at mile 4.5 to relieve myself, and Chris caught up to me. Yes, as I was peeing. I said, “Nature calls” as he passed.
I then caught up with Chris, he let me by, and then he stayed with me. Again, it was very nice to have someone to run with, and again, we talked the entire time! Chris is relatively new to long distance running, and had many questions. I was, of course, happy to answer them all. Do you stop at the aide stations? What do you think about when you’re running so many miles by yourself? What do you do when you get too tired to even think about running? How do you fuel? What shoes to you wear?
We parted ways at about mile 11.5, as the marathoners took a right to finish the race on Owl’s Roost trail and the 40-milers took a left for an out and back. We wished each other well, and Chris said he’d miss my company. I immediately missed his! He eventually came in second place in the marathon, just a minute and a half behind Dan. Amazing.
Miles 11 to 20
I ran solo the entire distance. There was a clearing at about mile 10, and many trees had been felled. I tripped over one, and fell pretty hard. Fall One. I thought, So maybe the bib number means I’ll fall twice?
At mile 18 it hit me literally like a brick wall. I’m not even halfway there yet. Why not just walk? Who’s going to know? And then, for the first (but not last) time I considered just breaking down in tears. I continued running and I didn’t break down.
The turnaround was at mile 19.5. I asked the volunteer to refill my Gatorade, and I retrieved my special needs bag. I put the 3 Roctanes and 1 Accelerade in my back pockets, held the plastic bag holding Bee Stinger gels and solid food, and took off. I had expected to see a member of a relay team coming toward me before I hit the turnaround, but I didn’t. One minute past the turnaround, I did. (Scott was kind enough to inform me and Dan that the relay teams had a bib number in the 500s, so they were easily identifiable.) Three minutes past the turnaround, I saw the 40-miler in second place runner and eventual second place finisher, William, so I had just six minutes on him. Six minutes isn’t very much when you have 20 miles of the race to go.
Miles 20 to 30
I ran solo the entire distance once again. I passed the rest of the 40-milers (going toward the turnaround), and most were very encouraging. You’re in first place! Way to go! Looking strong! And my least favorite: You’re almost there!
At about mile 22, I saw a male runner approaching. I yelled, “Runner up!” and he went slightly off the trail to let me by. Unbeknownst to me, there was a female runner right behind him. Not only did she not move off the trail, but she was looking down — and wearing headphones! I brushed hard against her as I had nowhere else to go. If you’re going to wear headphones (and the rules explicitly state that you could not), at least have enough courtesy to not have them playing so loud that you can’t hear others around you. I could certainly hear the music blaring from hers!
At mile 25, I was rounding a turn and getting ready to head up a hill when I saw the mile marker. While pressing the lap button on my watch, I fell again. Hard. Second time! There, that’s what the bib number meant after all! I felt much better.
My longest mileage day in preparation was a measly 28 miles. Twenty with my running friends, and another easy 8 with Xander later that same day. When I reached mile 28, my first thought was, Starting now, this is the longest I’ve run since the 50K race in July. Not a pleasant thought to have. I felt like breaking down. Thus, 10 miles had passed since my last episode.
There was an aide station at mile 29.5, and as I approached it I thought, Be sure to pick up your special needs bag. I asked a volunteer to fill up my Gatorade. Another volunteer, a young woman, looked at me and said, “You are inspiring.” I said, “Some would say inspiring, others would say an idiot for doing this to myself. Maybe I should have run the marathon instead.”
I then saw a runner approach, and as he did I looked at his bib number — in the 500s, so a relay team member. He approached the aide station, and I said, “Great job! Would you like to run the next miles together? I could really use the company!” He said, “No thanks, man. I won’t be able to keep up with you, and I’d only slow you down.”
I asked what direction to run, and was told and directed to the left. I took off. It wasn’t until I had run a half mile or so that I realized I hadn’t picked up my special needs bag; thus, I had but one gel on me, and no solid food. I contemplated turning around and getting the bag, but in retrospect it was the best decision to just keep running toward the finish. Besides, the upcoming aide stations had gels and solids.
Miles 30 to 38
You guessed it, I ran the entire distance solo once again. This part of the race is run mostly on Owl’s Roost trail, so I am most familiar with this part of the course. Keep in mind, too, that this is where things fell apart last year. I couldn’t help but recall it all: vomiting, imagining that every root was a snake, willing myself to run but only being able to walk, dreading every remaining mile, not being able to quench my thirst, feeling extremely light-headed, the list goes on.
Owl’s Roost has quite a few hills, many of them steep. I knew they were coming. I also knew I didn’t want to walk them.
I began to say to myself, out loud I might add, Just 10 miles to go. You’re 3/4 of the way there. You can do it, Paul. Yes, I talk to myself in the third person.
At mile 30, I began to feel the effects of a blood blister forming below the big toe on my right foot. At mile 32 it burst, and I could feel the blood sloshing in my shoe.
I picked up a Hammer Gel (my least favorite type of gel) at the next aide station. I was dreading having to down it.
At mile 34 my left shoe got caught on a root and I went down yet again. Hard. My first thought? This is my third fall, so the 2 in 142 must mean something else! I’m going to come in second place! I’ve led for this many miles, and I’m going to come in second place?
I tried eating the Hammer Gel, but it just wouldn’t go down. I was starting to bonk.
I began counting down the miles. Just 6 to go, just 5 to go, just 4 to go, just 3 to go, just 2 to go. It’s all a blur. A painful blur. While the wheels didn’t come off of the bus, the tires were becoming deflated. Along with my ego.
Mile 38 to the Finish
Just 2 miles to go. I did look behind me, and couldn’t see (or hear) a soul. I had passed quite a few marathoners, who were all very encouraging and supportive, and I would listen to hear if they also encouraged someone chasing me. I didn’t hear a thing. I was beginning to think that I might just win.
I kept looking and looking for the 39-mile marker. I didn’t see it. My lap time was 8 minutes, so I knew I would be approaching the marker soon. I still didn’t see it. My watch said 8:30. Still no marker. Watch said 9:00, then 9:30, then 10:00, and still no marker. I felt like I was running at full effort. Could I have really slowed down that much? When my watch said 14 minutes, I had persuaded myself that I had missed the mile marker. I obviously had, because I began to hear the spectators who were gathered at the finish line!
Before I even realized it, I was entering the finish area, and began the last circle around the lake toward the finish. I looked behind me, and didn’t see any runners, either marathoners or 40-milers. I felt a burst of energy, and kicked it to the end.
I looked at the clock, and realized I had finished under my goal time. Barely, but under my goal time nonetheless. Most importantly, no one had passed me, and I had won!
A volunteer gave me a cold washcloth to put on my head, which I did, and then I bent over to catch my breath. Not a good idea, because then I felt like throwing up. A volunteer handed me my finisher’s medal, and another volunteer gave me a bottle of water. I walked for about 15 more minutes, just trying not to throw up.
I hobbled (yes, hobbled) to my car to call Jeff. He and Xander were to have met me at the finish, but I found out that he got caught up in traffic. Just as well, because I don’t think I would have wanted him to see me in this condition, and I couldn’t have handled Xander’s energy just yet.
I finally took off my shoes. Here’s a picture of my bloody sock.
A picture of my bloody foot, too.
Jeff and Xander arrived, and I was finally able to eat some pizza. I didn’t, however, pee until 5 pm.
All in all a great race! The results have been posted, and both me and William finished ahead of all of the relay teams.
I’ve decided that the two in 142 means that the second time you run the race, you win!