It was a dark and stormy night…
It has taken me nearly three months to sit down and write this little essay. In order to make it a bit more relevant, it has now morphed from a mere race report on the Haliburton 100, (which took place way back on September 7-8) into a more broadly focused piece on training for my first 100 miler and a look back at what has been my most successful year of Ultra-running.
Now, that’s a bit of contemporary American philosophy that you can try for yourself at home, boys and girls. When you set your expectations low enough, it’s a cinch to exceed them. There now, don’t you feel better about yourself, already? Just remind me to invest my retirement money abroad, okay?
Preparations for my racing year began just over a year ago, when my 2001 racing season ended prematurely. I was running my very first night run, with Ed Schultze, Mike Broderick, Michelle Burr, and Mike Bur. I made several tactical errors: 1) I chose as my first night run a northbound run on the Appalachian Trail and all of its ankle-turning rocks, from the C&O Canal to Old South Mountain Inn; 2) I was running behind Mike Bur and letting him set the pace, and 3) I was relying on a headlamp with candle-power equivalent to a glow-in-the-dark watch.
The results were inevitable, as I badly turned my ankle, tearing two tendons in the top of my foot, and putting me out of action for about 5 weeks. While I was disappointed to miss my favorite race of the year, the Dr. David Horton show held each October in Lynchburg, things could have been a lot worse. I have an excellent podiatrist, Dr. David Levine, who is a runner himself. He referred me to physical therapy. I followed their edicts closely and did all the stretching and strengthening exercises that they asked me to do and worked hard in all 15 of my rehab. sessions. I was running again in 6 weeks, and completed the Club’s Potomac Heritage Trail and the MiTP with no trouble within 10 weeks of the injury. I permanently lost 5-10% sublaxation of the right ankle, but I have every reason to be grateful; it could have been a lot worse.
So what lesson did I learn from this experience? Right! All I need to do is practice running more at night!
After my injury and nearly 100% recovery, a friend and sometimes training partner, Peyton Robinson called me to discuss the value of physical therapy. As many of you know, Peyton suffered through much of last fall and winter with Achilles Tendonitis. Did he want to hear about the value of rehab. and stretching, and augmenting range of motion, dear readers? Of course not. He wanted to know about the handheld wand the therapist used to provide Ultrasound therapy. As he questioned me further, it became clear that Peyton really wanted to buy his own wand, so he could administer Ultrasound to himself, and “really crank it up!”
According to impeccable Ultra-runner logic, if a therapist set the device to “4” and gave him two treatments a week, he could save money and get better results by setting the device to “10,” five nights a week I was reminded of the character Nigel Tufnel in the movie, This is Spinal Tap. Tufnel especially revered a particular guitar because its volume dial “[went] to 11.”
As I figured out where the conversation was headed, I exclaimed, “Jesus, Peyton, why don’t you just stick your foot in the microwave, man!”
Why do I trouble you with this year-old anecdote? Well, I considered how close I’d come to ending my own running career and took a careful look at other peoples’ self-destructive, career subverting, obsessive behaviour, and said to myself, “Yeah, I can do this.” It was then that I began to lay-out a plan to run my first race longer than 50 miles.
As many of my friends know, I try to enhance the Ultra-racing experience by training as little as possible, so as to maximize the whole gestalt of pain on race-day. This might work for a 50-K and even for certain 50-mile races, but I thought it was probably not a good strategy for completing my first 100 miler. So, I decided to get serious about my training.
The next couple of paragraphs are for the reader looking for serious training guidance from a less than authoritative source, so the rest of you can skip ahead to the next section for more interesting material.
I’m not quite a back-of-the-packer, but then again, I seldom finish above mid-point in the standings of any race I run, so unlike the children of Lake Woebegone, I’m not above average; I’m decidedly below average. Therefore, those of you considering whether to try your first hundred, and pondering the applicability of my training schedule, consider that I’m 44 years old, 6’1/2”, 205 lbs, and carry 25% body fat, mainly owing to love of my own cooking as well as a weakness for foix gras or anything on the menu that reads “…finished with a sherry cream sauce.” As they say in the television commercials, “your mileage might vary.”
My logs begin 35 weeks prior to the race, and show long-run totals, total mileage, and any races. The reason I bother to include all this data is not “Hey guys! Look at me!” but rather to show other runners of modest accomplishment that a 100 miler is do-able on relatively low mileage totals. Hell, my friends Ed Schultze and Stuart Kern consider any week without at least back-to-back 50Ks and six hours on the Greenway to be a “taper.”
By the way, in keeping with my philosophy of “less is less,” for some weeks where I had no single run longer than 8 miles, I recorded the long run as “0.”
Month/Week Long Run/Weekly Total
Jan: 2) 22/44; 3) 20/40; 4) 18/39
Feb: 1) 0/23; 2) 0/25; 3) 26.2/50; 4) 14/21
Sick weeks 1 & 2; Wk #3 GW Birthday Marathon
Mar: 1) 0/29; 2) 36.7/61.7; 3) 28/42; 4) 50K/48
Week #2 John Coogan’s FA; Week #4 HAT Run
Apr: 1) 33/48; 2) 0/13; 3) 50/64; 4) 11/28.5; 5) 50K/47
Week #3 Bull Run; Week #5 Promise Land
May: 1) 26.2/40; 2) 0/14; 3) 0/26; 4) 35/59
Week #1 Pittsburgh Marathon
Jun: 1) 10/27; 2) 70/82; 3) 0/6; 4) 22/46;
Week #2 Laurel Highlands
Jul: 1) 24/46; 2) 10/32.5; 3) 25/46; 4) 11/27
Aug: 1) 0/39.5; 2) 20/51;3) 22/55; 4) 35/51
Sept: 1) 0/0; 2) 100/117
Very sick week #1; Wk #2 Haliburton!
The Haliburton 100
As you can see from the entry immediately above, I tapered hard. Normally, tapering is the best part of my training program. “What, you want me to sleep late and run less?” Hell yes! Sign me up.” That was my whole lifestyle until about 10 years ago. This taper was different because I had been very, very sick for about ten days immediately before the race. I had sinusitis and bronchitis. In fact, I nearly called my traveling companions the day before we were to fly to Toronto, to cancel. I had only finished my antibiotics the day before the race. I didn’t even know if I’d feel weak, because I hadn’t run more than a couple of the usual maintenance runs for the preceding two weeks. Odd colored things were still Fnorrking out of my nose as Ed Schultze, Kevin Sayers, and I flew into the Great White North. I’ve learned over the years however, that I usually run best when I have all of my excuses lined up.
Ed was going to run the race with me and provide moral support and coaching advice as we ran. Kevin was running because it was one of the few 100’s he’d not done before, because AirCanada had some cheap-assed airfares, and because it would give him a chance to see Monica Scholz and several friends from New England who would be there. Rochester’s running philosopher, John Prohira, was there along with several friends. Phil O’Connell from Hagerstown was there to run the 50K, having vacationed a couple of hours down the road at Niagara Falls.
The lodge at the Haliburton Resort was booked when I registered for the race, so I had to find other accommodations. After some searching, I found a “guest cabin resort” on the Internet. I was a little unclear on the concept of a “guest cabin resort,” so I called the resort and asked a bit more. They provided a roof, beds, and blankets, and we provide linens and towels. Based on the pictures from the website of serviceable if somewhat spartan accommodations and my conversation with a very pleasant middle-aged sounding proprietor, I booked a cabin for Ed, Kevin, and myself.
When we arrived to check in, I was taken aback. It was as if “Great Mobile Homes of Mississippi” had opened a northern branch. You know the “You might be a redneck…” joke about the directions to your house including, “at the burned-out bus, turn off the paved road?” Well that pretty much describes the driveway of where we stayed, except in this case, it was a partially collapsed cabin, wonderfully clad in tar-paper painted in a lovely trompe l´oeil style to look like faux brick. The guest reception area and office was the proprietor’s utility room adjacent to her garage, with several old refrigerator compressors sitting on the concrete floor next to the cash register. If this is a “resort,” then Eminem is music.
Just making idle conversation, I asked the proprietor about the winding down of the busy summer season. She corrected me; their busiest time of the year is in the dead of winter. Their best customers are snowmobilers. Hmmm…snowmobilers? Kind of like two-stroke bikers on ice, aren’t they?
Our cabin was something I recognized from pictures taken of my grandfather’s share-cropping shack. It appeared to have last been decorated just after John Dillinger stayed there. The floor sagged pretty badly to the middle of the room—which saves time on sweeping spilled food into a pile for all the dogs to enjoy. In an ingenuous and practical flourish, the owners of the cabin had placed one end of the bed on which Ed Schultze had chosen to sleep on a stack of 2X4’s, presumably so the blood didn’t pool in his head. My bedroom was nicely ventilated by some previous guest who had kicked a big hole in the unpainted, hollow-core door.
I was alternately indignant and amused. My friend, Kevin, thinks I’m a snob or downright prissy. He might be right about the snob part, but I can attest for public record that there are no pictures of Joan Crawford or Marilyn Monroe in my house, so I can’t be called prissy! It’s simply that my idea of roughing it is having to stay at a Holiday Inn instead of a Hyatt or a Hilton. Kevin’s idea of plush accommodation is an oil cloth spread on a bed of jagged rocks. He thought the cabin was a wonderful bargain and that he could stay there for a whole week with no problem. Granted, there was a beautiful lake 50 feet from our door, with crystal-clear skies, and tall pines everywhere. That’s what we were really getting, not a suite at the Four Seasons, so Kevin’s point was understood. Now if they only served afternoon tea and left chocolates on my pillow…
We checked in at race-headquarters and met Helen Malmberg, of Toronto, who is a superbly gracious host. She made everyone feel welcome. A regular part of the pre-race dinner, which is held in a large open lodge, occurs when Helen asks all the runners to stand and introduce themselves, and say a little bit about why they chose to come to Haliburton. She then introduces all of the volunteers and asks the runners to cheer for them. That’s a nice touch. Some of the volunteers stayed up for 36 hours straight, setting up, attending to grumpy runners, and then cleaning up.
There were quite a few novice 100 Milers, like myself. Haliburton seems to be a pretty popular choice for first-timers. Of the 37 racers attempting the 100, I’d say a third of them were first timers. The course is two out-and-backs on the same 25 mile course of rolling gravel-surfaced forest roads, unimproved dirt roads, and short stretches of single-track trail. Overall, I’d say 80 miles are on roads and 20 miles are on single-track.
John Prohira offered a pre-race prayer, and we set off in the early morning darkness. Ed counseled me in advance to go slow, that 100 miles is a very long way. To that end, we ran the first 25 miles in 5:15. It was a beautiful morning. There was a bit of mist on the many beautiful, glacial lakes.
But, as the morning wore on and the sun ascended above the pines, the Great White North became more like The Northern Neck of Virginia. By mid-day, Ontario was experiencing record-breaking temperatures of 34 hectares per furlong on the Celsius scale, which translates into ‘Merican as something like ninety-five degrees. On the 25 mile return leg to the start-line, I began to overheat badly, so Ed advised me to walk for a while. We interspersed short running breaks among what turned into long sections of walking during the hottest part of the day.
I appreciate Ed’s counsel, because I might have tried to push on if he hadn’t been there. Ed’s experience also helped when I tried to rush through an aid station at 30 miles, even though I was beginning to develop a hotspot on my left heel. He advised me to take my time and get my feet fixed properly and not to worry about the time. It took four tries and 20 minutes to get the Compeed and the duct tape to adhere properly to my sweaty feet, but in hindsight it was definitely worth the time, since I had no serious blisters after the race.
We staggered through the second, soggy 25 miles in 6:30, but felt better as the heat was already subsiding and the sun was waning fast at the turn-around. Picking up our flashlights and dry shirts at the 55 mile aid station, we met up with John Turner, whom we’d been leapfrogging for the previous hour or so. John would pass us on the downhills, and we’d pass him on the uphills. John was preparing to leave the aid station, just as we arrived. He downed a big gulp of coke and headed up the first section of single track. About 30 seconds later, we heard the unmistakable sound of a runner’s stomach launching its contents at maximum velocity. The acoustics of the hillside must have been perfect, because the aid station volunteers—most of whom were not Ultrarunners-- could hear every painful contraction as if they were standing right next to John. It was very, very impressive. The volunteers were still talking about this at the post-race awards ceremony the next day. Ed and I met up with John, who was standing on the trail trying to gather his wits and decide whether to press on. John, who was also doing his first 100, quickly said that it would pass, that it was time to go. He betrayed little of the effects of such an audacious gastric performance. He stayed with Ed and me as we began to run, trying to make the most of the remaining daylight. The three of us ran the rest of the race together. It was on this section, from 55-75 miles, that I had the greatest problems. The heat had worn me down, as had, presumably our aggressive early pace. While there was never any doubt in my mind that I was going to finish, time became increasingly elastic as miles and minutes both seemed to grow longer. The third leg of the race took us 8:17, which was a lot slower than I thought it would be.
We were all looking forward to the 75 mile aid station, which represented the furthest point on the race course, since everything after that would take us towards the finish line. More importantly, mile 75 was “Dieter’s Deli,” a full service restaurant, operated by Monica Scholz’s father, Dieter, and two of his friends. He had pasta (meat sauce or alfredo?), lasagna, and hot chicken soup, as well as sandwiches and the usual Ultra-fare. John’s stomach had settled down enough that he was able to eat some solid food.
As I sat on the bumper of his trailer, eating my lasagna, and listening to his Engelbert Humperdink tapes, we talked.
“You like him,” I asked.
“Not especially. Too schmaltzy. The ladies like him though!”
“Oh, terrific. Especially with Count Basie.”
“And your favorite?”
“Oh, definitely Deano!”
“Yeah, he’s pretty smooth.”
There you have it. If any of you have been overwhelmed by Scholz family’s graciousness, you could do worse than to send some Dean Martin cassettes to Canada! By the way, that’s what constitutes an intellectually challenging conversation after 20 hours on the trail. I was amazed at how good I felt. I was tired, but nothing hurt, and all my body parts were still functioning. Adhering to Ed’s advice to run even splits, we’d finished the first three legs in 5:15; 6:30; and 8:17, respectively.
At the 80 mile aid station, Ed, John, and I met two women, who had announced that they were dropping. Helen Malmberg was there, instructing them that, barring medical emergency, all runners must spend 30 minutes at an aid station before they can drop. One of the women, Mary White, was in serious pain because of a chronic back condition. She would definitely not be able to resume running. Her companion, Joy Valvano, had turned her ankle, but was eager to continue. After I assured her that we wouldn’t leave her limping alone on the trail, she joined us. Her first ½ mile was excruciatingly painful and painfully slow. There’s no way we’d be able to finish if she didn’t pick up her pace. Shortly thereafter, Joy’s endorphins kicked in and her joints warmed up again. Soon she was running nearly normally. Ultimately she finished, although once the sun came up and we’d moved off of the single-track and onto the logging roads, she thanked us for our encouragement and said that it would be okay for us to move ahead at our own pace. When the sun came up, I benefited from Circadian Rhythms (which, as Dave Barry might say, is a great name for a Polka Band) and was able to run with greater focus and strength.
When we arrived at the 95 mile aid station, it was around 9:00 in the morning. We dropped most of our gear into our drop bags and headed down the final stretch. Ed had been restraining me for the preceding 10 miles, telling me that “you’re tired, and if you try to run too aggressively, you could put your eye out with that.” At least that’s what it sounded like he was saying. At 95 miles, Ed said that if I wanted to run, go ahead and run. John and Ed kept their original pace, and I moved on ahead. It felt great. I took the brakes off and flew down the hills, and ran (in a manner of speaking) the uphills too. I believe that I covered the final five miles in a bit less than 43 minutes. I don’t know where the energy came from, but I was really happy to finish with such a nice jaunt to the finish line. As I arrived, I met up with John Prohira, who had just finished a few moments ahead of me, and Kevin Sayers, who had already showered, eaten, driven to Toronto visited a few museums and attended a Blue Jays Game. Well actually, he’d been done for about four hours and had already showered and changed clothes.
I crossed through the finish line @ 27:53, which beat my goal of 28 hours. That was good enough for 14th of 21 finishers. There were 37 starters. The photographer missed me, so Helen Malmberg had me make a second pass beneath the banner and then gave me a big hug. I grabbed a soda from the aid station and sat down on the ground next to Kevin to await Ed, John, and Joy.
I was again amazed at how good I felt. I recall how I felt following my first marathon, my first 50 miler, and my first Mountain Masochist—in each case terrible—and couldn’t relate the experiences. I was tired but not exhausted and already thinking about my next 100.
Shortly after Ed & John arrived, Ed, Kevin, and I returned to our cabin, where Ed & I took showers, before Ed & Kevin jumped in their rental car to buzz down to Toronto for their trip home. (Kevin believes a vehicle has two speeds—on and off—and drives accordingly.) I decided to stay over an extra night, so I could attend the awards ceremony and have a leisurely drive back to Toronto after a good night’s sleep.
I have heard over and over again, “beware the chair,” meaning don’t sit down at an aid station in a 100 mile race, particularly in the latter stages. Well, friends, I can say that dog won’t hunt. I sat down at nearly every aid station, and suffered no ill effects. In fact, I found that three to five minutes off of my feet usually left me feeling much refreshed. At a couple of the aid stations that our happy band encountered during the night time hours, I laid down and propped my feet up against a tree while waiting for coffee or soup. Of course, I learned from Uncle Ed to get my money’s worth from the aid stations. Last year, while working at Camp Roosevelt Aid Station (33.6 miles) at the MMT 100 I noted that Ed checked into our aid station. 20 minutes later, I noticed that he’d never checked out. I found him at the buffet table, sitting and talking amiably with the Aid Station Captain, as if this were their regular poker night. I told him that we were going to charge him rent if he was going to move-in; so he left shortly thereafter.
I also learned that however much I’d like to believe in the power of late night infomercials, there’s no “Thigh-master” for the Ultrarunner. If you want a relatively painless race, you have train for pain, so that when race-day arrives, it’s easier than what you did in training. I consistently trained with runners who are stronger than I am, so I had to push myself a bit in order to keep up. I ran the Greenway at night with Gary Knipling (have Gary tell you the story about the two Yoo-Vee-Aye alums we met on the Greenway that night); I did the first 33 miles of the MMT course with Mike Bur and John Dodds; I did the three hills of Harper’s Ferry with Gary Richwine and so on. There’s some form of character-building truth in there, but please don’t tell anyone.
I found tremendous benefit in selecting a race where I had a high probablility of success. Haliburton historically has a very high finish rate, and its rolling terrain was a better match for a first timer than would have been the severe elevation changes of Cascade Crest or rugged terrain at Superior Trail, which were the other two races I had considered. My conclusions may have been different if I had chosen these two or the MMT, as my first 100. As Uncle Ed put it so well, “there’s time for heroics later; just get the first one in the bag.”
Finally, I cannot over-emphasize the value of running with an experienced 100 mile veteran. Ed Schultze was patient in listening to my blather for 27+ hours and counselling me when I should push and when to pull-back my pace. He must have advised me a dozen times, “Brian, you’re running up a hill you should be walking.” His good humour and friendship were key ingredients in my completion of my first 100 miler.
Brian R. McNeill
December 13, 2002
Virginia Happy Trails Running Club
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