Friday, June 13, 2014

TARC Places

I should have known better …

After almost 18 years of running and racing experience, I know damn well that I have

trouble running in the heat. Throw in some hills (and some stupid decisions) and it’s a down home recipe for disaster. As evidenced two years ago at Boston, last year at Bear Brook and every year at Yankee Homecoming. The TARC 50 was going to be different, however. Why? Because I was approaching this race as a structured training run with friends as I prepared for my first 100 Miler in October. Unfortunately, my competitiveness (and my stupidity) got the better of me and my structured training run turned into a steaming hot mess.

I suspect (and hope) that this story will be amusing to everyone who is not named me…

Good Recon Gone Bad
One week before the race I headed down to Westwood, MA to check out the trail system that was to be the new home of the TARC 50 - Hale Reservation. After my 3 hour run I came to 5 sobering conclusions. 1.) The trails at Hale are beautiful, but not very well marked - as I got lost 16 times in 16 miles! 2.) This 25 mile loop course has got everything. And plenty of it! 3.) It is not for the tall, or feint-of-heart. Thankfully, I am only one of those things. 4.) I should've done this recon run last weekend, instead of doing Pineland. 5.) I have definitely not tapered enough for this race. A fact that was only exacerbated by the recon run itself.

A Sweaty Start - Mile 4.3 - 43:46 leg time (10:10 leg pace)
The race started bright and early ay 7:00am. Which was good, considering the daytime high was forecasted to be well into the 80’s. Originally, I was hoping to run this race in about 9 hours, the recon run raised that number to 10 and the heat would likely turn it up to 11. So naturally …I took it out hard. But even at what turned out to be just over 10 minute pace (which translates to an un-godly 8 hour and 30 minute race) I was still being passed left and right on the early single-track trail. A quick splash ‘n go at Aid Station #1 and I was done with the first segment (of 10) in the race – and what turned out to be, by far, the easiest!

Spin Cycle - Mile 9.3 (5.0) - 55:15 (11:03) / 1:39:02 overall time (10:38 overall pace)
I had skipped the second 5-mile segment almost in its entirety during my recon run. So, I was anxious to get my first look at it during the race. And in typical TARC fashion, it didn’t disappoint! In addition to some smooth and easy double-track trail, it included one zig-zag bog-bridge swamp crossing, two sandy beach runs, three good sized hills and four dizzying ring-around-the-rosy loops. By the time I got to Aid Station #2, I had no idea where I was relative to the course map. I was feeling a bit lost, and it was starting to get hot. But, another quick double shot of Tailwind and I was on my way!

Crusher of Souls - Mile 14.2 (4.9) - 54:10 (11:04) / 2:33:12 (10:47)
I had run most of the third segment previously, so I sort of knew what to expect. A lot of double-track trail a few water crossings and a couple hard climbs. During this segment I ate my first GU of the day (Salted Caramel, yum!) to go along with the electrolyte tablets I was taking (2 every hour) and tugs of Nuun infused water from my backpack (1 every 10 minutes) to help keep myself properly fed and hydrated. After the second summit of Noanet Peak I raced down the trail to the un-manned water stop. I was feeling good and ready to start crushing the souls of those foolish early fast-starters. Little did I know, I was one of them!

Bloodbath Potential - Mile 19.3 (5.1) - 57:00 (11:10) / 3:30:13 (10:53)
The fourth segment contained both my favorite and least favorite portions of trail. The favorite: A spongy single-track, weaving through a bed of ferns, under a deep canopy of pine trees. Ahh, THIS is my kind of trail running! The un-favorite: A steep gravel scree, in full sun followed by a series of muddy leaps over questionable land-fill run-off. Yuk! In between, I was greeted by Ryan Triffit who was waiting for his wife Danielle. I told him that I thought a bunch of people up front were going to suffer today for having started too fast. And that this race had some serious “bloodbath potential”. Well, it’s been said that “pride cometh before the fall”, and unbeknownst to me, my nuclear autumn was just about to arrive!

I Was Promised Watermelon - Mile 24.5 (5.2) - 1:17:56 (15:00) / 4:48:09 (11:45)
Up until this point, I had maintained a pretty steady 11 minute a mile pace - or 55 minutes per 5-mile segment. All that changed on segment five. I left Aid Station #4 in pretty good spirits, but once I traded the smooth flat fields for the roller-coastery “forest of doom” I knew I was in trouble. On paper, the power-line to power-line portion of this segment lasted a brief 2 miles, but in reality, it lasted all day! It featured tons of technical ups and downs, countless twists and turns - all with the sun beating down through a thin canopy of trees. By the time I reached the start/finish line I was hurting. My core temperature and my average pace had both skyrocketed, and all I wanted was some freaking watermelon!

Ice Ice Baby - Mile 29.7 (5.2) - 1:22:28 (15:50) / 6:10:38 (12:28)
After a couple chunks of pink juicy goodness, several cups of cold lemonade and a handful of chips I left the aid station and prepared to head out on Lap 2. Ryan Triffit graciously neglected his braut burning exercises to help me re-load my pack and send me on my way. This time, just for fun, segment one also included an additional mile of brushy and buggy single-track. Excellent! And, no matter how much I drank from my hydration pack I just couldn’t quench my thirst. I made an additional stop back at the start/finish for some ice water and then had some more again at the next Aid Station. I was overheating. And fast!

What Place Am I In? - Mile 34.7 (5.0) - 1:14:26 (14:54) / 7:25:05 (12:49)
Once I reached Aid Station #1, things were beginning to unravel quickly. My average pace had soared and my spirits had sunk. I was in a very dark place and seriously considered dropping out. If not for the tremendous support from the volunteers, I might have done just that! Emily offered to cool me off with a refreshing spray of water. Mike brought me cup after cup of Tailwind and watermelon. And Carolyn broke into her own personal stash of Aleve to relieve my lower back pain. I left there slowly, but I left nonetheless. Eventually, I started feeling better. So much so that I “raced” into Aid Station #2 urgently asking what place I was in. I can only assume that heat stroke was the cause - as the hallucinations had clearly begun!

Race Walking - Mile 39.6 (4.9) - 1:22:13 (16:47) / 8:47:28 (13:19)
I zoomed (at least in my mind) out to tackle the next segment clutching onto a dry Nutella sandwich as well as the notion that I was still “in this thing”. That notion was quickly cast aside on the first ascent of Noanet Peak. Not only could I not run it (like I’d done the previous loop) but I couldn’t even walk it! I had to stop 5 times on the short, steep pitch just to collect myself. And, by the time I descended it TWICE, my quad muscles were in full revolt. I couldn’t even keep up with the two 100 mile racers ahead of me. And they were walking! This was definitely the low point in the race for me. Or, so I thought!

The Muscle Rumba - Mile 44.7 (5.1) - 1:22:37 (16:10) / 10:09:55 (13:38)
I sat at the un-manned aid station drinking my warm Nuun water and feeling very sorry for myself - once again. Just 10 more miles to go, but it felt like 100. There was no one there to give me ice, watermelon or a cold shower. Just me and ALL my cramping muscles - as the calves and hamstrings had now joined the quads in an undulating symphony. Or, was it a Rumba? In the spirit of “let’s just get this thing over with” I pushed away from the table and headed down the trail. It hurt too much to walk, and running was impossible, so all I could do was shuffle. I tried to cry, but no tears would come. I felt like a dehydrated idiot!

Oh, the Humanity! - Mile 49.9 (5.2) - 1:39:09 (19:02) / 11:49:05 (14:12)
My five previous forays into the sport of ultra-running had each gone quite smoothly. My four 50k’s and one 50 miler had exceeded all expectations – both in terms of pace and perceived effort. So much so, that I was beginning to think that I was not human. And, after 40 years of trying, I had finally found the sport that I was built for. After this race? Not so much! My humanity stared me square in the face as I shuffled through the heat fields of the farm, ambled around and over the burning forest of doom and trudged along the sandy shores of Noanet Pond. At long last, the Finish Line arrived to put me out of my misery. I laid down face first in the grass, never again wishing to rise.

It had taken me just under 12 hours to run those 50 miles - almost 4 hours more than my first 50! The first loop was done in a relatively swift 4 hours and 48 minutes (11:45 pace) and the second loop was done in a glacial 7 hours and 1 minute (16:30 pace). Meaning, I had a positive split (over the same 25 mile loop) of 2 hours and 13 minutes and an increase in pace of whopping 4 minutes and 45 seconds per mile! U.G.L.Y!

My first thought, after pulling myself up off the ground and brushing off the sand, was: “How on earth am I going to run 100 miles?!” And my second thought was: “How am I going to pay back all those people who donated to 100 Miles For Sam?!” And then I recalled something I wrote after getting lost for the 16th time at Hale …

Don't waste time worrying about where you think you should be. Instead, choose to focus on where you are.”

So right now, I’m choosing to focus on all the great training that has gotten me to this point. I’m choosing to focus on how wonderful the TARC Family was during this race. And I’m choosing to focus on what great and inspiring kid Sam Berns was…

Don’t worry Sam. I won’t let you down!


  1. I think you learned some valuable lessons out there. Patience, proper pace, determination and not worrying about the race upfront will get you to the finish of your first hundred.

    Program this into your brain, "One hundred miles is not that far." - Karl Meltzer

    Good Luck!!

    "One hundred miles is not that far"

    1. Thanks Dan. That 50 miles felt like forever! Not sure how twice as far can be "not that far". But I'll take Speedgoat's word for it. :)

  2. Michael, great report! I am glad I could hose you down at the Trading Post! I love your sentiment, quote, philosophy about focussing on where you are....true for life!
    How do you remember all the blow by blow miles?
    :0) Emily T

    1. Thanks Emily! You can hose me down anytime. ;)

      Also, at 15 minutes per mile, there is PLENTY of time to take it all in! lol.

  3. Awesome report! Sounds like it sucked...but you made it.