I had been looking forward to One Day for quite some time since I would be running it with my wife. She’s a very casual runner so isn’t able to do many of races that I sign up for, however the format for this race is perfect for people of all athletic abilities. It’s held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in NJ on a one mile paved loop. It’s not a perfect circle, more like a mushroom shape, and there’s enough buildings and trees along the course that you can only see maybe a quarter to half mile at a time. There are several turns and a short out-and-back section that breaks it up and provides some variety. There are a couple small changes in elevation though none that are large enough to be remotely classified as a hill.
And while I just did my best to describe the course as something more than just a flat mile track, there’s no getting around that at the end of the day, that’s what it is. Some small number of people will be intrigued by the idea of continually running the same stretch of pavement over and over again. The vast majority of the population though would be aghast at the thought. So if you want to up your crazy quotient just tell your friends and family you’re giving this race a go.
That’s really the only downside to this race. Here are all the things you get with that though:
- Ease of navigation. Short course means it’s impossible to get lost.
- Super simple logistics. You can set up your own aid station right on the course with anything and everything you could might need.
- Heated bathrooms. No rickety porta potties here. Very posh.
- Lit course at night. There are enough street lights along the course that you don’t need a headlamp.
- Increased camaraderie among participants. In most ultras, you typically only encounter runners close to your ability level. Here you could interact regularly with runners of all abilities and doing all of the races (6hr, 12hr, marathon, 50k).
My primary goal for the race was to run 100 miles, which translates into an average pace per mile of 14:24. I’ve had problems with flat courses in the past so my plan was to run nice and easy for the first 10 miles then switch over to a 3:1 run walk strategy. I was planning to run for one and a half laps and then walk a half lap. I would maintain this for as long as possible before adding in more and more walk breaks. And if (when?) things completely fell apart, hopefully I would have been able to bank enough time early in the race to be able to walk it in.
Everything started out according to plan. The early miles felt easy and I was cruising along knocking out sub-10 minute miles. As I reached mile 10, I did some quick math and realized I had just put 47 minutes into the bank towards a 100 miles. Banking time is typically a very dangerous activity so I started walking according to plan even though I still felt really good. I grabbed some food from the aid station and ate it as I walked the first half of the course.
After a couple run/walk cycles, I was shocked to notice that my half walk miles were coming in at a sub-12 minute pace. It took me until mile 20 to realize that it was silly to keep running as much as I was when I could walk half the time and still bank 2+ minutes per mile against my goal. This was easily the best decision I made all day and resulted in perhaps the most consistent pacing I’ve ever experienced in an ultra. I ran the entire second half of the race at 14 minute pace plus or minus. The two outlying splits above were due to a wardrobe change/bathroom break at mile 69 (26 minutes) and an extended bathroom break at mile 93 (23 minutes). Other than that there was only two other miles above a 16 minute pace (and just barely at 17, 18 minutes).
My biggest pacing issue wasn’t really with how fast I was running and walking. It had more to do with how much time I bled in aid stations and the bathroom. With aid so close together, it was very easy to find a reason to stop every mile or two. A minute here or there doesn’t sound like a lot until you add up thirty or forty of them. Now I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t get aid when you need it, however there were many times when I probably could have waited an extra couple miles and packed together a couple stops into one. At the end of the day, I probably only “wasted” 5-10 minutes with unnecessary stops which was really no big deal but you need pay attention to this if you’re running close to your goals.
In ultras, you need to stay flexible. So even after I switched to walking each loop, I realized that part of what I had been walking was a nice “downhill” section that made more sense to run. I added a walk section to the top of the mushroom to compensate and 2 more short sections in the back half mile to create . . .
Amazingly enough, this worked for me from about mile 30 all the way to the end of the race. The only exceptions would be when I would run into my wife earlier in the day or when I started getting off my nutrition plan later on. Since one of the cool aspects was sharing time on the course with my wife, I tried to take a little extra time with her whenever I could. I tried to balance my competitive goals with my social ones and hopefully struck a good balance. I did a better job during the day than the night when things became more of a grind and I was in full on git ‘ur done mode.
“Try the mashed potatoes”
The nice thing about The Grind was that I could tell when I was getting low on calories when I couldn’t quite run all the way to my walk points. I would make sure to eat something on the next lap either from what I brought or from the aid station. I was relying on Ensure Plus shakes every 10 miles to start out supplemented by whatever seemed appetizing at the start/finish line (power bars, gummy bears, jelly beans). Unfortunately, the shakes (and their 350 calories) stopped being palatable at mile 50. I tried a little rice and beans and chicken broth and while both worked short term for me, neither was enough to keep me going for much longer.
I was complaining about my deteriorating nutrition situation to another runner about 60 miles in and he suggested I try the mashed potatoes. It didn’t sound like an awful idea so I grabbed a couple spoonfuls the next time past the aid station. It went down smooth as . . . well, smooth as mashed potatoes. So I grabbed a large cup the next time I rolled through and this became my goto source of nutrition for the rest of the race. It’s hard to express how important this discovery was to my race performance. Success in ultras can largely be attributed to eating well. Those that are able to stomach the most calories are typically the ones that do the best.
Bringing It Home
So with The Grind firmly in place and my nutrition issues solved, now all I had to do is finish the run. But which distance? I had entered a 24 hour race, but my goal had primarily been to run 100 miles. My secondary goals of 105 (farthest distance) and 101 (1 mile more than a hundred) were quickly shunted to the side once the grind began. The weather conditions throughout the day weren’t extreme by any stretch of the imagination, but they weren’t benign either (flurries?!?!). The wind gusts during the day made it difficult to stay warm during the gusts without getting overheated when they went away. The temperatures overnight got into the 20s, which again made things a little uncomfortable when the occasional winds decided to rear their chilly heads.
By the mid-90s, I was completely focused on moving from one segment of my grind to the next. As I began mile 96, another runner started walking with me. He was incredibly chatty and I was barely able to mutter more than one or 2 word responses. When I started running, he would run. And then back to a walk when I switched back. He was in great spirits for 6am and was clearly having a lot of fun. I on the other hand was not having a lot of fun. It was odd that I ended up with extended company at one of my lowest points when I had barely spent more than a minute or two with anyone else throughout the race. After a mile or so, he moved on and I continued pushing towards my finish. Luckily, I was able to catch back up to him on my last lap and apologize for my grunts and unresponsiveness. As an experienced ultrarunner he was cool about it because we’ve all been there.
I noticed the time as I hit mile 98 and realized I had 30 minutes to set a new PR. It caught me totally off guard because 1) I don’t think I had noticed the time on any other lap (the numbers on the TV were pretty small) and 2) I thought my finish time was going to be closer to 23 hours. I had been pushing to finish as soon as possible and it turns out I had pushed myself to the brink of great time for myself. The truly ironic thing is that I literally just wrote a post about not chasing PRs anymore. I ran a bit harder the last 2 miles and ended up knocking 4 minutes off my prior best time.
Be careful about setting distance goals for timed event. They can be an excellent source of motivation to keep you going, however you’re more likely to stop once you reach them. Physically, I probably could have cranked out 5 or 6 more miles, however mentally I was completely done. Though most likely I wouldn’t have finished 100 miles nearly as quickly if I focused on running for another 2 hours.
Overall, this was a wonderfully well run event and I couldn’t be happier with how I performed.
Shoutout to the Wife
As much as I’d like to make this race (and report) about myself, I need to end with the best part. My wife. She had done a couple 12 hour races in the past, but that was the extent of her ultra experiences. She had a goal of reaching 50 miles and was able to accomplish this about an hour before I finished. She smartly paced herself to 36 miles (farthest she had ever run), took a 4 hour nap (because you can), then walked all night long to hit her target mileage. She grinded out her race like an ultra veteran (walk 2 miles, 10 minute rest) and kept going far beyond what she once thought was possible.
And maybe that’s the best reason of all to run this race. One Day provides you a safe, convenient environment to find out where your limits are. Or more accurately, where they’re not.