They say revenge is best served cold, but anyone who has ready my about my DNF last year knows revenge would best be served with mid-60s temps and no rain. I say this only half seriously though. I’m not the type of person to take the easy way out and part of me is wishing for near freezing temperatures and prolonged downpours. I don’t want people to think I was only able to complete this race because of favorable conditions. After about 5 seconds of thought though, I’m back to wishing for mild temperatures and no rain because running 100 miles is hard no matter what the weather. You probably already think me insane for signing up for these race distances, but I’m not so far gone that I would prefer to do one in less than optimal conditions. I’ll eventually run into all possible weather (hail, 100 degrees, etc.) at some point and while I hope to survive them, I don’t have to wish for the worst. The current forecast looks good (mid-60s high, high 40s low with no rain) so maybe I’ll get lucky this time.
This is the fourth year of the race. One of the things I like about it (besides the lack of hills) is that’s it’s a very low key event, even for ultras. There’s limited swag besides a buckle for finishing. Winner’s don’t even get medals. That’s not to say this is an entirely cut rate production. The aid stations are well stocked and the volunteers are top notch. I’m hoping they have more than the 2 porta potties at the start/finish area like last year because the line was insane and ended up causing the race to start about 10 minutes late. While this is annoying at most races, it’s less so for a 100 mile race. I mean, it’s not like you’ve got anything pressing to do immediately after.
The course is two “loops” on the C&O canal. The first loop is a 58 mile out-and-back on the canal. It starts with about a half mile of single track trail till you get to the towpath where you hang a right and head towards Cumberland, MD. After about 10 miles, you turn around and head towards Washington, DC for the next 30 miles or so. You then turnaround and head back to the start/finish about 20 miles away. For the second loop, you make a left when you get down to the C&O Canal instead of a right. The rest is the same. There are 7 aid stations set up along the course, most of which you hit multiple times, so you’re never more than 5-7 miles from the next one with a couple only 3 miles or so apart. Given the flat terrain, this is more than enough.
I’ve decided to set up 3 goals for this race (A, B, C), however I’m going to organize them a bit differently than most people set them or even I would have in the past. Normally, you would put your biggest stretch goal as your A goal and then work your way down to your most basic or lowest as your C goal. When looking at races individually, I think this is right and appropriate. You set your goals based on your training, level of fitness, or more likely your hopes and dreams. And while looking past races is a good way to take them for granted (and DNF), it’s also good to know where they stand in the greater context.
A Goal: Finish
And the greater context for me is that I want to finish a hundred 100 mile races. I can’t imagine I’ll have many more than 100 or so opportunities in my life to race the distance so it is absolutely vital that I make the most out of each one I start. So I can’t focus on running certain paces or get caught up in hitting time goals. I need to be focused 100% on finishing. And anything that might get in the way, including making decisions to run faster, needs to be ignored. This isn’t to say I’m planning on lollygagging around the course. I’m going to push myself within reason to run as fast as possible, however when I need to make a critical decision out on the course I need to error on the side of finishing rather than finishing quicker. In practice, this is likely to mean longer than planned aid stations stops later in the race. It’ll also mean dressing warmer than I think is necessary and carrying extra water/food while I’m out there. There’s probably a dozen things that I can’t even think of now and my thought process needs to be “which option is more likely to get me to the finish line”.
B Goal: Sub 24 Hour
Up until a week ago, I thought I had this one in the bag. Then I went and pulled/strained/somethinged a muscle in my left thigh that I’ve never even felt before. I think I have this back close to 100% now, but there’s no way to know if and/or when it might start bothering me again. I need to average a 14:24 minute pace in order to accomplish this goal. I finished Oil Creek about 150 minutes slower than this. But that course had 17k+ of elevation gain while this has about 1k. I have no idea if that’s worth a minute and half per mile on my pace or not. When I dropped last year, I had averaged 13:23 over 69 miles so 16 minute mile pace over the rest of the course would have gotten me a sub-24. Now if I had finished last year, there was no way I was going to be able to accomplish that. My best guess is that I could have done 25-26 hours. Now though I have an extra year of endurance training, experience, and knowledge under my belt. I’d like to think that’s worth that hour I needed.
C Goal: Sub 20 Hour
This is what I’ve been fantasizing about on my training runs. Sprinting up the final hill into Camp Manidokan with a 19 handle sitting on the clock. 12 minute miles. It doesn’t sound too tough, but this is a blazing fast time no matter how flat the course is. It’s rare that I run slower than that and typically only on hilly terrain. But 100 miles is a looooonnnng distance. Last year only 7 of 132 starters ran under 20 hours. Six people did it the year before and 3 managed this the first year. Am I in that league of runners? After only a couple years of ultra running? And 30-40 miles per week? Maybe. I ran low 10 minute pace on a semi-hilly course for 30 miles a couple weeks back. The question is how much fade do I have in my legs and how much can I limit the miles I run (OK, walk) at a 16-17 minute pace. The fewer miles that I throw away huge chunks of minutes, the more this is possible. I really have to run the entire course in order to make this happen. I’m pretty sure I can run 50-60 miles. It’s probable that I can run 70-80 miles. It’s theoretically possible that I can run 100. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to run 100 no matter how flat the course. But that won’t stop me from dreaming. . .
My race strategy is focused on four areas:
- Pacing. Similar to recent ultras, my goal here is to keep my heart rate under 155bpm. This keeps me out of the red zone and is a nice, easy (literally) all day pace. I am not going to employ the run/walk strategy that I did last year. On a flat course, this HR will have me running all the time. This is a risk since I haven’t run continuously for long distances in quite some time. So I’ll keep pounding the exact same muscle groups over and over and over again. The issue I had last year is that I didn’t stay “loose” because I kept switching back and forth so much. I’m sure I will end up walking a decent amount in the back half of the course, but I’ll save this for survival mode.
- Nutrition. One gel every 3 miles from the first aid station onwards. I will have some Ensure Plus in my drop bags, but will only supplement if the gels start getting hard to choke down.
- Aid Stations. My plan is to spend as little time as possible for the first half of the race and as much time as necessary in the latter stages of the race. Basically, from mile 60 onwards I will make sure I don’t leave one unless I have all potential hazards covered until my next drop bag (batteries, fluids, food, clothing, etc.).
- Weather. My strategy is to dress like it’s 10 degree colder than it is likely to be until my next drop bag. Comfort is key. As long as I’m warm, then my muscles should stay looser and I’ll be less likely to cramp up (I think, I’m not a professional here). I can always shed clothing as I run (i.e. gloves in pockets, roll up long sleeves), however the opposite is not the case. It again comes down to the least bad alternative. The risk of overheating in April is much, much lower than freezing with temperatures dropping into the 40s.
Last year I was totally unprepared for the unexpected. This year I think I have a much better handle of what could go wrong while running 100 miles. That said, I’m still a novice at the distance so I’m sure several things will come up that I haven’t thought of. I just hope that I have gained enough experience to troubleshoot my way to buckle #2.
How do you approach your goal races?