"However, if you fail to prepare, you will either go through stress to win your race or you may quit when the battle becomes tougher than you ever imagined"
- Israelmore Ayivor
I have run a lot of tough races and I have covered some tremendous distances in the pursuit of the finish line. Without a doubt, this was the most mentally difficult race I have ever ran.
Running in timed races is a relatively new experience for me and the Pickled Feet 24 Hour race would be my second effort in this type of race format. After my win at the Across The Years 48 Hour race, I've been interested in exploring timed races. Few things are more motivating than a possibility to win a race. These opportunities don't come around often, especially for an aging athlete, so I owe it to myself to push out of my comfort zone and explore the world beyond the typical trail ultras. Who knows...maybe that's where I'll find my strength.
Getting Ready to Go...
The Pickled Feet race is made up of a 100 mile trail race in addition to the 6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour and 48 hour events. All of these races are held inside the Eagle Island State Park in Eagle, Idaho. The course is a 2.5 mile loop consisting mostly of dirt trail, plus a tiny bit of pavement. My race started at 6:00 PM on Friday. When we arrived, the 100 mile and 48 hour races were already underway. The 6 hour and 12 hour runners would be joining us for the 6:00 PM start as well. Bib numbers and colors distinguished which race each runner belonged to. This keeps a 24 hour runner from battling head to head with a 6 hour runner for absolutely no reason. Or at least it's supposed to.
Race Director, Emily Barriochoa Giving Pre-Race Instructions
Here's my detailed plan for the race:
RUN MY ASS OFF FOR 24 HOURS AND WIN THE RACE OR DIE TRYING!
I realize this plan may seem simplistic, slightly foolish, and maybe even dangerous. Conventional wisdom never came into play while I was developing this plan. I had no time for that nonsense.
By the way, I have a patent pending on this race plan, so please refrain from stealing my intellectual property. Thank you.
In an effort to provide the appropriate presentation at the start of the race, I lined up deep in the pack. When the race started, I bolted past all the other runners and went right to the front. This gives the illusion of even greater speed than I was actually exhibiting. To the novice runner, it probably looked lightening fast and somewhat terrifying.
I actually giggled for the first half mile. My plan was working!
Me Chasing a 6 Hour Runner at the Start
I would learn later that the runner I'm chasing in these pictures was running the 6 hour race and he had incorrectly assumed that I was ALSO running the 6 hour race. He was running wildly, trying to put distance between us. We got a good chuckle out of his misunderstanding when we met up five hours into the run. To my credit, his fear of being passed by me pushed him into an enormous lead and eventual win. I'm all about helping other runners out.
The "loop" is really a lollipop, meaning we run out from the start/finish area and then begin the actual loop, returning to the start/finish area on the "stick" of the lollipop so we can get scored for a lap. And...repeat!
We were allowed to choose which direction to run the loop and we could change directions as often as we wanted. This may seem like a small thing, but believe me, after 30 loops, any little change of scenery is a blessing!
It Clearly Says "You Can Go Either Way" at the Fork
On the first loop, I was still chasing my buddy from the 6 hour race when we came to the fork. He ran to the right, so I ran to the left and planned to head him off at the pass. Absolutely NOBODY followed me. Furthermore, a chorus of runners began yelling at me, telling me I was running the wrong way. I simply referred them to the sign, as I did not have time to enter into a debate about this.
At the midpoint of the loop, there's a sign that says "Half Way". When I reached this point, the lead runner had beat me there by only a few meters. And then the rest of the race field began to file by as we headed in opposite directions. This gave me a chance to scan for the bib numbers I had memorized. I was hunting for the runners that I knew were a threat. There were three runners that I was worried about, and sure enough, two of them were running near the front and they looked strong.
Meanwhile, the lead runner was still looking over his shoulder at me. Poor guy...I'M NOT EVEN IN YOUR RACE!! SLOW DOWN AND RELAX!!
At the end of the first five miles, Jo ran along aside me as I blew through the aid station, chugging gel while swapping bottles. I never stopped and Jo ran stride for stride with me. We did this for the first several hours. Never stopping...just fueling and running. It was a pretty awesome display of ultra crewing badassery, if I say so myself!
I was running, I was leading, and I was happy! Until mile 20 when somebody did something to really get my blood boiling. Seriously...I almost lost my mind.
As I was running toward a shuffler, who I assumed was in the 48 hour race, or the 100 miler, I could see him fixing his gaze on me. As I got closer, he began to raise his hand and he slowly pointed his bony finger right in my face. In a thick European accent, (saving nationality to protect the "innocent") he angrily blurted out "YOU WENT OUT TOO FAST!!! SLOW DOWN!!!"
Look...this dude was ANGRY. Normally, I would have been all "Whatever, Pops", but this really got under my skin. I probably got so angry because the EXACT SAME THING happened to me when I ran the Across The Years 48 hour race. That guy was ALSO European. Maybe I was unwittingly breaking some European timed race rule! Anyway, I was so flustered by the whole thing that I wasn't capable of crafting an appropriate response and I just blurted out some random words. I may have said something about a squirrel, but I can't say for sure.
Geez...just writing about it now is getting me mad again! I need to learn to let things go.
Anyway, I gave the dude a BIG smile and a wave every time I flew by him. When people doubt you, the best revenge is performing well.
As the sun set, the temperatures dropped a few degrees, but it was still very comfortable running weather. I was happy to see the night arrive because it masks the course. This allows me to run all night and pretend I'm anywhere I want to be. There's no scenery except for what I create in my mind. It's a life saver in a race like this.
I was tracking the other 24 hour runners on the scoring monitor, but not frequently. I knew I was being chased by a strong runner and I also knew he was fading. I eventually dropped him by 20 miles and I began to ease off my pace and daydream about actually winning this race. It was still VERY early but I was becoming comfortable with the idea of winning.
That didn't last long and everything changed.
After loafing around the course for a few laps, Jo told me that another runner had snuck within 17 minutes of me and was on the same loop. We were both at 70 miles at this point. He's wearing bib #223 and his name is Bob Shannon.
CRAP! Here I am screwing around, patting myself on the back and having a casual little run, and now I was almost caught! I bolted out of the aid station and tried to find my focus.
I swore at myself for the next 5 miles. I actually called myself some pretty revolting names and I really hurt my feelings. But I deserved it.
For the next 25 miles, I kept close tabs on the scoring monitor. Bob was holding his own against me but I knew I was running at an unsustainable pace. If he didn't eventually break, I knew I would. I was hurting so bad at mile 95 that I was ready to concede the first place spot just so I could relieve the pain. I was in a bad place and my own complacency put me there.
While calculating splits in my mind, I realized I was going to have a new 100 mile PR as a result of this frantic running. My current PR was 17:05 and I crossed the 100 mile mark at 16:30, shaving 35 minutes of my record.
I found some comfort in that silver lining.
Crossing 100 Miles In 16:30
I eventually pulled away from Bob for a while and we began to exchange words when we passed each other on the course. We were both very cordial but we were also very focused. He looked strong and that intimidated me. I had to either push on or pull over for him. I reluctantly kept pushing.
Once I had a 7.5 mile lead over Bob, I began to relax but I knew I couldn't let my guard down again. That's what landed me in this mess to begin with.
People at the timing tent were taking notice of the battle between Bob and I. It was a real race and we were slugging it out on the course. More people showed up to photograph us, there were more cheers and encouragement and people were waiting to see if one of us would break. It was becoming a spectacle.
Shortly after that, I saw Bob walking on the trail. Slowly. He gave me the universal "I'm done" sign. I stopped and asked if he was OK and we chatted about his condition. He was having some pains and wanted to avoid any real damage. He planned to finish his loop and call it a day. We went our separate ways and I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders.
When I crossed the timing mat at 117.5 miles, I had set a new course record. I checked that off the list, grabbed a gel and kept on running.
I continued on to 120 miles, resuming my easy pace and thinking about how nice it would be to get this race finished so I could take a hot shower and get under some sheets somewhere.
And then...BOOM! I saw Bob back on the course! MAN! This is NEVER going to end!
I ran another 5 miles and we were approaching the 23 hour mark in the race. Bob wasn't gaining any ground on my position and I lost interest in tracking him at this point because he didn't have the time to close the gap between us. I was only focused on being finished with this race.
After finishing 125 miles, the race officials opened up the "short loop" for us to run on. This is a .19 mile, paved loop that sits adjacent to the timing tent. This allows us to log as many laps as we can in the final hour of the race and avoid getting stuck out on the big loop when the race is over. Partial loops don't count, so the small loop is the safest bet late in the race.
As I entered the small loop, I saw Bob getting ready to do the same thing. I slowed down so we could run together and chat about the race.
Bob and I Running Together on the Short Loop
I enjoyed running with Bob and chatting about everything that had happened. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the guy and having a chance to run together at the end of the race was a great way to wrap everything up. It will be an experience that I'll remember forever.
Bob was having some knee pain and he eventually decided to call it quits. For real this time. And I was left alone to run some tiny circles.
At 128 miles, I grabbed a beer from my wife and took the opportunity to walk for a while and chat with the other runners. There are a lot of amazing stories unfolding out there and I wanted to enjoy some of their experience too. I found Davy Crockett, a very inspiring runner from Utah, and we chatted while we walked. I was feeling warm and content. I was in a very good place.
Me and Davy Crockett Walking and Joking
I made it known that I would stop at 130 miles and a few people gathered around the timing tent to yell out my distance every time I crossed the timing mat. I ran the last mile pretty strong and was excited to be done.
Finishing 130.13 Miles in 23:44
Congratulations From The Race Director
I won the race, set a new course record, set a new 100 mile PR and became the Idaho State 24 Hour Champion. I was pretty satisfied with that.
That's a lie. I was freaking ELATED!!!
Top Three and the RD
The plaque we received was actually oil on canvas and is handmade by a local artist, which I thought was very cool.
I was equally impressed with my stuffed Idaho Potato. I've won a lot of swag, but this was my very first stuffed potato. I shall cherish it forever.
Me and an AWESOME Race Director
This is a fantastic event and I'm really pleased that Jo and I decided to come to Idaho and run it. We had a great time. It's a well managed race with great volunteers, an awesome timing crew, good food and fun people. Simply awesome!
I want to thank all my sponsors, especially Hammer Nutrition for working with the RD to get me into the race. I also want to thank Altra Running for providing the amazing shoes I wore during the event.
Most importantly, I need to thank my awesome and beautiful wife for another excellent performance. She's the best crew member in the history of the sport and I'm lucky to have her.
Thanks to everybody for the continued love and support. 2014 is going to be an incredible year!